SUMMARY: Collaborating with union representatives about psychological health and safety initiatives from the outset aligns with the recommendations of the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.

Psychological Health and Safety – A shared objective

The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace provides a framework that can be used to help employers and unions work together to create healthier workplaces. Many unionized workplaces already enjoy professional cooperation and collaboration between union and management. Even in workplaces where this has not been the norm, the concept of a psychologically healthy and safe workplace can help all parties to interact within guidelines that support the resolution of issues in a respectful way. Both union and management have worker well-being as a shared objective. This facilitates an opportunity to work together for a common goal.

Employers can also benefit from the union’s knowledge and ability to support planning, implementation and ongoing sustainability of a psychologically healthy and safe workplace. This framework may also be helpful in collective bargaining processes.

Psychologically Safe Collective Bargaining

Working together to establish a process for conducting collective agreement negotiations in a psychologically healthy and safe way before bargaining time may make it easier for employers and unions to arrive at an agreement based on accountability and openness, as well as civility, fairness and respect.

This process should include those who are accountable for the collective agreement and who may want to come together before it is time for collective bargaining to discuss potential issues and concerns. Some of the questions that could be discussed include:

  • What are the essential elements of collective bargaining? What must get done?
  • How contentious or emotional are each of the elements and why?
  • How could these elements be implemented in the most respectful way?
  • What is reasonable behaviour for this type of process and what crosses the line to incivility or disrespect?
  • What would be a reasonable approach to managing what needs to get done?
  • How can we respectfully hold each person accountable to this approach?
  • When can we get together after the bargaining is concluded to review our experience and refine our process?

Understanding the issues and desired approaches in advance may also present the opportunity for offering training in areas such as conflict resolution, coping skills, or communication techniques. 

These approaches may be a new way of doing things for the union, employer and workers. Offering these approaches to improve the way in which all parties treat one another throughout the collective bargaining process may help to gain support for the broader approach of psychological health and safety in the workplace and ultimately result in a more successful outcome for all concerned.

20 questions for unions about workplace mental health and psychological safety

These questions can help union representatives consider the effectiveness of current approaches for promoting psychological health and safety in workplaces as well as in supporting workers who may be experiencing mental health issues at work. Encourage all union representatives to take part in the discussion and focus on solutions that support a psychologically safe workplace.

  • Do our representatives/members have adequate awareness and training to identify a worker who may be experiencing a mental health issue?
  • Do we have performance indicators and evaluation methods to objectively evaluate how we address mental health issues in our workplace?
  • Do our representatives participate in the development of reasonable accommodation plans for workers that address emotional, psychological and interpersonal challenges?
  • Do we effectively support a workplace culture that allows for open communication among workers, management and union and is free from stigma and discrimination?
  • Do our representatives understand our role in helping to participate in and assist with the duty to accommodate?
  • Do our representatives understand our role in helping to eliminate harassment and bullying in the workplace?
  • Do we advocate for collective agreement wording that supports worker mental health and psychological safety?
  • Does our collective agreement address reasonable accommodation?
  • Are we sufficiently aware of accommodation options related to mental health issues to offer viable alternatives to suggestions put forward by management?
  • Do we have a Joint Accommodation Committee that collaborates with management on reasonable accommodations that are successful for the worker with minimal impact on the collective agreement?
  • Do our representatives understand the requirement of confidentiality when discussing worker's personal medical information?
  • Do our representatives know how to handle a disclosure of mental illness from a worker?
  • What is our approach for dealing with co-worker resentment of accommodation?
  • Do our representatives model healthy and respectful workplace behaviours?
  • Are we aware of and trained in approaches that assist us to intervene effectively in co-worker conflict?
  • Are we aware of the resources, expertise, and supports that our union leadership offer to help us with mental health or psychological safety issues?
  • Is there a process in place to respond to a request to provide more evidence of the need for reasonable accommodation?
  • Is there a process in place to respond when a reasonable accommodation request is denied?
  • Is there a system in place to offer support to union representatives who are emotionally exhausted?
  • Does our union provide support in the interpretation of the collective agreement and are workers aware of how to access this support?

With appreciation to the Workforce Advisory Committee of the Mental Health Commission of Canada for their review of 20 questions for unions about workplace mental health and psychological safety.

Return to work or accommodation where when mental health needs to be taken into account can also be an opportunity to collaborate with unions. See Union Support for more ideas.