Addressing a Suspected Mental Health Issue

In the past, most employers thought that mental health was a “personal and private matter”, and not in the purview of leaders to become involved in an employee’s depression, learning disability, addiction, anxiety, among other matters of mental health.

Today, we know better. We know that work plays a vital role in a person’s overall wellness. We know that workplace practices that support good mental health have tremendous positive outcomes for the organization and the individual.


You would not ask the employee directly if they have mental health issues. Instead, you would:

  • Inquire whether there is a problem affecting their performance or ability to do their job;
  • Make sure the employee understands that you respect their privacy and will not be sharing the details of your conversation with anyone who does not need to know;
  • Remind the employee of their Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and what is covered in their Health Benefits Plan;
  • Indicate that an accommodation plan is possible if the employee needs an accommodation – this might include: flexible work hours, extended training periods, coaching, mentoring, adjustments in communication processes, leave of absence, job sharing and/or modified deadlines.

When having this discussion, caution on:

  • Probing or attempting to diagnose the problem;
  • Offering treatment advice (leave this to a trained professional);
  • Accusing or inserting judgement;
  • Making assumptions based on stereotypes.

If the employee discloses an issue:

  • Reassure them that they will not be penalized for the information being disclosed;
  • Obtain a medical questionnaire filled out by the employee’s treating physician;
  • Create an accommodation plan where possible;
  • Offer EAP assistance;
  • Discuss what they want communicated to other employees (e.g. in the event of a leave of absence);
  • Set expectations surrounding performance and behaviour;
  • Set a follow-up meeting.

Regardless of what direction the conversation takes, be sure to document every step.

For more information on mental health in the workplace, download our employer’s guide below. 

An Employer’s Guide to Mental Health at Work

Practical actions employers can take to promote mental health in the workplace.

Download PDF here.