Mental health is a key area of employee management that has come under focus as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The transition from the normal workplace environment to remote working, and back in some instances, has created new stresses for employers and employees alike. This has served as a reminder that employers need to be proactive about helping their employees manage their mental health. Alberta Occupational Health and Safety (“OHS”) has emphasized that employers must identify and address "psychological hazards" in the workplace to maintain employee safety.

Psychological Hazards

A psychological hazard is defined by OHS as “a situation, condition or thing that may affect the mental health of the worker.” Exposure to psychological hazards can lead to a worker becoming overwhelmed by self-coping mechanisms, which in turn may affect their physical health and their ability to function in the workplace.

Employers have an obligation to assess the worksite and identify psychological hazards, then take steps to eliminate or control the hazards. Employees should be informed of the hazards and the methods being used to control or eliminate them.

Psychological Hazards During Covid-19

What constitutes the “workplace” has shifted as a result of Covid-19 and with that shift businesses are dealing with different psychological hazards than they are used to. The following is a list of psychological hazards which may become more prevalent in certain workplaces:

  • Prolonged isolation
  • Lack of social support
  • Technological changes or advancement
  • Increased exposure to violence or harassment
  • Substance abuse
  • Poor communication or consultation with workers
  • Job insecurity
  • Under-utilization of skills or knowledge
  • Inability to separate work from home
  • Inadequate resources

What Steps Should Employers be Taking?

  1. Employers should be regularly reviewing their organizations to identify potential psychological hazards, especially when significant changes are occurring within the organization. Once hazards are identified there are several steps an employer may take to address the situation.
  2. Employers should create policies or procedures which address workplace psychological hazards. Policies should set out how to report a psychological hazard and the investigation process to be used when one is reported.
  3. Employers should use primary prevention techniques to remove or reduce workplace psychological hazards before they impact employees. This may include identifying and eliminating undue job demands resulting from remote working or helping employees create a positive work environment at home.
  4. Employers should use secondary prevention techniques to equip workers with the tools to deal with ongoing psychological hazards. This may include training employees on how to use new technologies like video calling or creating communication strategies to deal with isolation.
  5. Employers should use tertiary prevention techniques to treat the effects on those who have been exposed to psychological hazards, thus preventing further harm. This may include facilitating access to counselling or accommodating employee requests regarding reintegration after remote working.

We Are Here to Help

Employers have an obligation to provide a psychologically safe worksite at the best of times. During a global pandemic this task becomes more difficult, but even more important.

Contact Us

Our Employment and Labour Law team is able to assist you in evaluating the psychological hazards in your workplace, and taking steps to alleviate them.

Learn More

Emery Jamieson LLP