A few years ago, only gross acts of harassment would have been considered grounds for legal action. But Dr. Martin Shain, founder of the Neighbour at Work Centre, suggests that we’re “lowering the bar on liability,” creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and unpredictability for employers.
In a recent webinar hosted by HR Compliance Insider, Dr. Shain suggested that a new “super” duty of care is emerging in the Canadian legal system: the duty to provide a psychologically safe workplace. And it’s very likely that this trend will grow in the United States, as well.
Employees are now seeking compensation for mental injury, which injuries include:
Depression (not necessarily clinical)
Anxiety (not necessarily clinical)
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Creating a Psychologically Safe Workplace
The law notwithstanding, there are benefits to creating a psychologically safe workplace, including creating a basis for both health and high performance.
Dr. Shain describes a psychologically safe workplace as one where mental health is on the same footing as physical health. It’s a workplace where there is zero tolerance for mentally injurious conduct and one that provides strong support for respectfulness and fairness.
Assess Your Culture
You can suspect you have a psychologically unsafe workplace if you overhear employees saying they feel:
That no one cares
These concerns suggest that there are psycho-toxic conditions in your workplace. Unaddressed, these concerns can create a breeding ground for conflict and legal action.
Address the Risks
The key message for employers is that minds need protection just as bodies do. To achieve a psychologically safe workplace, your three main responsibilities are to:
Keep work demands within a known capacity of employees,
Make it safe for employees to speak up and get involved,
Monitor and respond to signs of conflict/distress. Look in the dark corners of your organization, being vigilant for warning signs of potential mental injury. Failing to notice the signs is the most common path to claims.