International Labor & Employment Law Committee Newsletter

Issue: February 2013

Editor: Tim Darby | Africa and Middle East Editor: Karen Seigel | Asia and Oceania Editor: Ute Krudewagen | Canada Editor: Gilles Touchette | European Editor: Paul Callaghan | Latin America Editor: Juan Carlos Varela | Law Student Editor: Irene Lehne, Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University

Canada

Voluntary National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace Released

Pamela Hofman, Norton Rose Canada LLP/S.E.N.C.R.L., s.r.l., Toronto, Ontario, Canada

A voluntary national standard documenting a systematic approach to developing and sustaining a psychologically healthy and safe workplace was issued January 16, 2013 by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and the Bureau de normalisation due Qu├ębec (BNQ). Entitled "Psychological health and safety in the workplace--Prevention, promotion, and guidance to staged implementation", the standard was commissioned by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (the MHCC). Perhaps the first of its kind in the world,1 this national Standard documents a systematic approach to develop and sustain a psychologically healthy and safe workplace and is designed to align with other relevant Canadian standards that incorporate the elements of:

  • policy, commitment, leadership and engagement;
  • planning;
  • implementation;
  • evaluation and corrective action; and
  • management review and continual improvement.

The Standard rests on three strategic pillars:

  • prevention of harm: psychological safety of employees;
  • promotion of health: maintaining and promoting psychological health; and
  • resolution of incidents and concerns

The Standard generally provides a framework for employers to monitor and measure performance against 13 workplace factors that are known to impact psychological health and safety. As organizations may have housekeeping standards that are important to prevent physical injury, for example, an organization can evaluate itself considering these factors to assess the risk of psychological injury. The factors are:

  • Organizational culture: The workplace is characterized by respect, accountability, trust and a sense of community.
  • Psychological support: Both formal and informal organizational support systems. An example of a formal support system could be an employee assistance plan. An example of an informal support system could be an organization that supports workers when they are dealing with personal or family issues.
  • Clear leadership and expectations: Workers receive clear communication of expectations and feedback, as well as proactive and timely communications from leadership regarding important changes.
  • Civility and respect: Workers are respectful and considerate in their interactions with one another, clients and the public. The organization values diversity and effectively handles conflicts.
  • Psychological demands: The organization assesses psychological demands of a position, not only physical demands, and assesses and monitors the impact of organizational changes. The organization assesses the level job control and autonomy.
  • Growth and development: Workers and have opportunities to develop and receive encouragement and support in the pursuit of their objectives.
  • Recognition and reward: Accomplishments are appreciated and celebrated, and work is fairly compensated.
  • Involvement and influence: There is opportunity for meaningful dialogue between employee and leadership regarding suggestions for improvement and important changes, for example.
  • Workload management: Workers have a reasonable amount of work and are supported by the appropriate tools and resources, with some control to prioritize multiple demands.
  • Engagement: Workers feel pride, commitment, and enjoy their work.
  • Balance: This factor is related to workload management. The organization promotes life-work harmony, for example.
  • Psychological protection: Workers are protected from harassment and bullying. Supervisors care about workers' emotional well being. Unnecessary stress is minimized.
  • Protection of physical safety: Workplace conditions provide an safe environment for workers, including adequate training, availability of rest periods, and having health and safety concerns addressed.

The Standard includes sample implementation scenarios for both small and large enterprises. The Standard is voluntary and sets our the benefits to employers of its implantation:

  • Risk mitigation: A report by Dr. Martin Shain. PhD, entitled Tracking the Perfect Legal Storm,2 asserted that there is an emerging legal duty in Canada for employers to provide a psychologically safe workplace. Citing the convergence of trends in human rights, employment standards, occupational health and safety and workers' compensation legislation, as well as the law of torts and contract, Dr. Shain concludes that there is a ". . . rising tide of liability for employers in connection with failure to provide or maintain a psychologically safe workplace."
  • Cost effectiveness: The backgrounder3 produced by the MHCC in support of the Standard states that the economic burden of mental disorders in Canada has been estimated at $51 billion per year, with almost $20 billion of that originating from workplace losses. Such losses are due to decreased productivity through absenteeism and "presenteeism"--lower productivity or underperformance while at work--as well as short-term and long-term disability costs, for example.
  • Recruitment and retention: This element is related to cost effectiveness in terms of the cost of training new employees. However, it also includes the value of being able to attract and retain the best and brightest employees by becoming an "employer of choice."
  • Organizational excellence and sustainability: The premise for this benefit is that employees who are psychologically safe are more engaged, and may be more creative and innovative, which is beneficial to the employer.

Particularly where an employer has an established safety program into which this Standard could be integrated with relative ease, there appears to be very little downside to an employer to its implementation. Even without an existing safety program, the Standard provides a framework to follow and adapt to the size of the organization, and is available at no charge. Since it is voluntary, it could be argued that it is a good time for employers to start the process of implementation, without the pressure of a mandatory deadline. Nevertheless, as this is a voluntary standard, the level of adoption among employers remains to be seen.

1Other publications and toolkits that may be of interest include the following: The Mental Injury Tool Group launched the Mental Injury Tools for Ontario Workers, created "for workers by workers," which can be found at www.ohcow.on.ca/MIT. See also www.guardingmindsatwork.ca.

2See http://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/SiteCollectionDocuments/workplace/Perfect%20Legal%20Storm%20FINAL%20EN%20wc.pdf.

3See http://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/SiteCollectionDocuments/Workforce_2011/MHCC_ENG_BACKGROUNDER.pdf.

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