Mental Health Issues & Resignation

Written on behalf of Peter McSherry
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The question of a mental disability and the need to accommodate this is a well-known concept. We have previously written about the need to accommodate cognitive disabilities as well as the human rights considerations relating to mental health at work. While human rights considerations are often the basis of these types of cases, there are also other potential claims in civil courts. Canadian courts have often expressed the obligation of an employer to act in good faith at the moment the employment relationship ends, which can raise the issue of an employee’s mental capacity to make the decision to resign from their role.

What is not readily apparent is the civil liability of an employer for failing to address the issue of emotional stability of an employee when it was aware, or should have been aware that the employee was suffering from a difficult emotional issue at the time of resignation.

Menard v. Royal Insurance Co. of Canada

This precedent-setting decision helped to illustrate the obligations of an employer in this context where an employee resigned in the midst of an emotional crisis.

The employee had submitted her resignation when she was clearly going through difficult personal issues. She had taken a period of sick leave previously due to the same issue. The company was aware of these issues and the impact upon the plaintiff. Two days after the letter of resignation was delivered, the company accepted it. There was no contact between the two parties in the intervening period.

At the “exit interview” which followed, the employee clearly showed signs of emotional distress. The company representative made no reference to the organization’s disability plan, even though he had suggested this to her previously, which had led to her prior disability leave.

The termination checklist noted the supervisor’s responsibility to advise the employee of group life and staff insurance. This had not been done.

The Court found that the plaintiff was medically disabled when she wrote the letter of resignation. The trial judge referenced the vulnerability of employees at the time of termination and held the company to a duty of good faith.

The court concluded that the employer-insurer had an obligation to help the plaintiff to make a claim for disability benefits. In this case, the company was also the insurer but the significance of this decision is not limited to such a fact situation.

An Employer’s Failure to Consider Mental Health Upon Resignation Can be Costly

An award was made in favour of the employee for lost disability benefits from October 19, 1990 (the date of resignation), to the date of trial in June of 2000, a considerable award. Today this claim would likely be accompanied by a sizeable award of aggravated damages for injured feelings.

An employee’s mental disability may not only lead to a human rights claim but also significant potential civil claims, as shown in this instance. An employer that has reason to suspect that an employee may be resigning as a result of mental health difficulties should be sure to provide all possible options to an employee, including leave and disability options, prior to accepting a resignation.

Get Advice and Know Your Rights

Mental health issues are complex and require extreme sensitivity in the workplace. This subject matter is continually evolving. If you are an employer or employee with questions about your obligations or rights relating to a concern regarding mental health, contact the offices of Guelph employment lawyer Peter McSherry. We can guide you through the issues, help you understand your rights, and defend your position. Contact us online or by phone at 519-821-5465 to schedule a consultation