Home - Do we have an obligation to find out if an employee has a mental illness?
August 24, 2018

If an HR manager has not been told that an employee has a mental health issue, as most medical certificates don’t disclose what was actually wrong with the person, but suspects that a person might not be 100% well, is there any requirement that they seek out that information and, if so, how?

The employee in question has been crying at work and has shown signs of memory loss. I understand we have a right and an obligation to manage performance, but what can we do if during conversations about performance issues, the employee becomes extremely upset?

If an employee is frequently crying at work and you have generally noticed a change in their behaviour, i.e. they are experiencing memory loss or seem anxious, you might like to have a conversation with the employee to ask if they are okay, and if there is anything that you can do to help. These questions should be framed in such a way that they let the employee know you are there to support them.

You should suggest to the employee that they access the Employee Assistance Program, if you have one. You cannot, however, ask an employee outright if they have a mental illness.

In the context of a performance management process, you can ask the employee if there are any personal issues that might be contributing to their unsatisfactory performance. If they disclose their health condition, you can ask for details about this and explain that you require this information to determine the extent to which it will affect their ability to perform their role and what you can do as an employer to assist them in recovering from or managing this.

Alternatively, if they have provided you with an ambiguous medical certificate, you may request further information from their treating doctor if you obtain the employee’s consent. You would need to advise the employee that this is to help you better accommodate them in the workplace and to make reasonable adjustments that might assist them in carrying out their job.

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