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How can I approach an employee about their mental illness?

When you see behaviour that suggests an employee has a mental health problem, the best approach in most cases is to meet with the person to privately talk about your concerns about their work-related performance. In larger organisations, the human resources department or advisor may liaise with staff.

Below are suggestions for how you can:

Prepare for the meeting

It’s important to prepare for the meeting, by taking the following steps.

Meet with the employee

Consider how well you know the employee. Some people will feel more comfortable if you treat the meeting as a performance review, focusing first on their strong points as a worker before addressing areas of concern. This format may make some people defensive, though, so perhaps begin by stating that you are concerned about the employee, and say why.

If the situation is serious enough that the loss of a job is imminent, it is important to be clear and document the meeting as a performance issue so there is no confusion.

In either case, assure the employee you intend to work with them to help them get back on track or get the supports they may need.

Before assuring an employee their information will be kept confidential, make sure you know what the company policy is, who you have to share the information with and in what form. Have a copy of the company policy available for the employee.

Tips for the meeting:

It is important that you:


There are some things you should not say or do:

Your employee may not know, or may refuse to acknowledge, they have a mental health problem. In that case, there may be little you can do to help them. At this point, focusing on work performance is the best approach.

Make sure you deal with any hurtful gossip or bullying promptly and effectively. It is your responsibility to ensure employees are not bullied or harassed on account of a health issue. 

 
Follow-up

Your organisation’s involvement doesn’t end with this meeting. You’ll want to follow-up with the employee, or designate someone who can follow-up on your behalf.

Keep your notes on the meeting in a secure location to maintain confidentiality.

To provide appropriate adjustments to help them at work, you will need to know:

The employee may not disclose a problem to you, but may seek help from the EAP provider or from a community service provider (such as a doctor, psychologist, or counsellor). After receiving professional help, the employee might decide to put in a request for workplace adjustments.

If the employee’s performance has not improved by the time you meet again after the designated period, and there has been no request for workplace adjustments or leave, it would be appropriate only at that point to consider disciplinary action.

Be sure that you and the employee understand the employer’s obligations to provide workplace adjustments. If there is a collective agreement in place, be familiar with the terms of the collective agreement.


What if I’m really anxious about strange behaviour?

The vast majority of people with mental illness who are at the point of returning to or entering the workforce are usually acutely aware of the stigma of mental illness and try to draw as little attention to themselves as possible. However, during periods of illness some people with serious mental illness may respond inappropriately. Some people may tic or hum, talk to themselves or engage in other behaviour considered to be strange. This is not deliberate. The important point to consider is whether this behaviour interferes with their ability to perform the job.

 
Are people with a mental illness potentially violent?

As a group, people with mental illness are no more violent than other members of the general population.

 
How do I manage the rest of the team when someone has a mental health issue?

An employee’s mental ill health could impact on the rest of the team. This could be in response to:

You should:

If a member of staff with a mental health condition is offered flexible working hours as a reasonable adjustment for example, it may be appropriate to offer the same conditions to all staff.

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