Although still under investigation, this tragedy has brought to the forefront the issue of responsibility of employers to ensure their staff are physically and mentally fit to perform their job duties. As tragic as the apparently intentional actions of the pilot are to fathom, Canadian aviation authorities assure us that this was a rare occurrence. But for this particular airline, and for many of us travellers all around the world, mental illness has now entered the realm of public safety.
We all know the stats – one in five Canadians will suffer with a mental health issue at any given point in their lives. What this tragedy reminds us is that no one is immune to this stat: not pilots, dentists, doctors or any other professional who has responsibility over the lives and health of others in their work.
Federal authorities have long known the risk that some untreated mentally ill people can pose, so whose responsibility is it to report and document these individuals? Doctors and therapists are required by law to report to the federal government employees who operate or direct aviation equipment who they determine are living with depression, suicidal tendencies, or other mental health-related symptoms. Certain industries, particularly those dealing with public safety, are strongly regulated to avoid potential tragedies.
No employer wants their employees to struggle with this or any health issue. Responsible employers foster a healthy and safe work environment, and want to empower their employees to seek counselling. This is why many Canadian employers have incorporated external EAP (Employee Assistance Plan) services to help them follow best practices when there is a perceived risk to the mental health of the individual, especially in safety sensitive situations.
While EAPs need to work within the limits of the law, EAPs who assess employees to be at risk of harming others, or themselves, have a professional and legal obligation to report this information to the proper authorities, including the employer if the workplace is at risk.
Being an employer responsible for the emotional wellbeing of your employees means supporting and accommodating your employees for the overall health of not just the employee, but your entire organization.
Are there any situations where the perceived risk to the mental health of the individual supersedes public safety? I look forward to discussing this in the comments below.