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Workplace harassment targets mental health

For many Canadians, living with mental illness is a day-to-day reality. Unfortunately, as some Calgary residents can attest, a great deal of stigma still exists in workplaces across Canada about mental illness and the people who suffer from it. A misunderstanding of these conditions can lead to harassment, discrimination and even termination of employment. 

According to a recent study, some 500,000 Canadians find themselves unable to work on any given week because of complications of mental illness. These "invisible diseases" can take the form of depression, anxiety and many other challenges that often see their sufferers branded as "crazy" or, even worse, "lazy." Employees who come forward under the condition of anonymity have reported that harassment can escalate in the workplace if knowledge of the individual's condition becomes common.

This is leading some individuals with mental illnesses to fight back. For example, a recent case saw nine civil employees file a suit against the city of Toronto, arguing that their contracts did not allow for the kind of medical and therapeutic support they required to do their jobs effectively. While change is happening, it is slow in coming, and in the meantime, many employees continue to suffer in hostile work environments

In general, harassment is not acceptable in any workplace for any reason, both here in Calgary and across the nation. However, the misunderstanding of mental health and the stigmatization of illness help to "legitimize" this behaviour in workplaces. This is why individuals who suffer from harassment due to a preexisting condition may benefit from seeking the support of an experienced employment attorney. 

Source: CBC News, "Hard At Work: Why mental health in the workplace is often misunderstood and stigmatized", Alexandra Sienkiewicz, April 12, 2017

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