Accommodating for Bad BehaviourSep 14, 2023
Ideally, the workplace should be a place of respect, professionalism, and cooperation. However, in reality, conflicts frequently arise. As a manager or HR representative in your organization, you may see uncommon or “bad” behaviours in your workplace from time to time. You may be wondering: does bad behaviour need to be accommodated in the workplace or is bad behaviour a code of conduct issue? Well, the answer is that it depends.
Addressing behaviour issues requires a careful balance between accommodating employees’ needs and maintaining a healthy work environment for everyone around them.
Understanding Bad Behavior
Bad behaviour can have numerous consequences, impacting the psychological safety of your organization. Bad behavior can manifest in various forms, including but not limited to:
- Bullying and Harassment: Verbal, physical, or psychological abuse directed at coworkers.
- Toxicity: Creating a negative atmosphere through cynicism, gossip, or consistently pessimistic attitudes.
- Insubordination: Open defiance of authority or refusal to follow company policies and procedures.
- Unprofessional Conduct: Displaying behavior such as tardiness, excessive absenteeism, or failure to meet job responsibilities.
- Disruptive Behavior: Behaving in a way that disrupts the workflow or productivity of colleagues.
Disability or Just Bad Behaviour?
When considering the need for accommodation, we look to the legislation and legal decisions to define disability. In the Human Rights Code, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19, encompasses a broad range, including physical disabilities, mental impairments, developmental disabilities, learning disabilities, mental disorders, and more. The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) created a policy on ableism and discrimination based on disability which indicated that the definition of disability is evolving with legal decisions and changes to the way that we perceive disability to include systemic barriers and attitudes. “Disability” should be interpreted in broad terms. It includes both present and past conditions, as well as a subjective component, namely, one based on perception of disability.
With these definitions in mind, we know that mental distress can point to a disability. Mental distress can potentially lead to a change of behaviour, affect a person’s emotions in a negative way, and affect their relationships with the people around them. Mental or psychological distress can be used to describe a state of emotional suffering associated with stressors that are hard to cope with in daily life.1 Mental injury can be described as a loss of mental faculties arising from a physical injury. Mental illness can be described as a psychiatric disorder defined by behavioural or mental patterns that cause significant distress or impairment of personal functioning. An employee that is distressed or experiencing a mental health condition may have challenges with being able to control their anger or their response at times, which may cause some conflict in the workplace.
During the pandemic, mental health-related disabilities significantly increased. Statistics Canada found that 21.5% of employees had a physical, mental health, cognitive, or other disability during the first four months of 2021.2 This was a 2.7% increase over the previous year. Young women reportedly had the highest frequency of mental health-related disability in 2021, rising 7.6% from the previous year. According to Statistics Canada, these increases are likely due to increased prevalence of mental health-related disability in employees rather than increased employment of those with a disability.2
Improving Employee Behaviour Through Accommodations
So how can an employer know if someone has a disability or is just exemplifying bad behaviour?
- Verification: As an employer, you can ask for verification that the employee has a disability requiring accommodation. The employee has a responsibility to provide information that justifies a need for accommodation based on disability. Follow your accommodation process.
- Behaviour control: Is the employee able to control their behaviour given the medical condition? You may wish to consult with the employee’s health professional or access an independent assessment to determine if the employee can control their behaviour.
Employers may not be able to say if disability is causing the behaviour if the employee does not disclose this information. However, if disability is the case, there are accommodations and supports employers can provide to improve the behaviour.
- Ensure that the employee is getting the right care for their health condition, either from their healthcare provider or from an Occupational Therapist who can assess if and what accommodations are necessary as a result of a disability.
- Provide employees and managers training on understanding the signs of distress and how to manage behaviours.
- Be clear on how employees can use strategies and tools in their work.
- Employees can become self aware and manage the fight or flight response.
- They can learn to slow down and breathe when distressed.
- They can set up tools to adjust their behaviour – what are the triggers and how can they use the tools to manage those triggers?
- Employers can help employees develop a team support system so they can ask for help when they are overwhelmed.
Improving Employee Behaviour Using a Code of Conduct
Whether the behaviour is related to a disability or not, as an employer you can set expectations of following a code of conduct. You do not have to accept bad behaviour in your workplace. Be clear to the individual what is expected as part of the essential duties of the job. You also are required to support psychological safety in the workplace, which means that if an employee’s bad behaviour puts others at risk of psychological harm in the workplace, then it may be “undue hardship” to accept the behaviours that come with the disability.
Steps to take:
- Outline a code of conduct that is required in the workplace.
- Educate employees on the code of conduct and have them sign off on it as part of their training.
- Find out what you can do to support the employee in following the code of conduct (e.g., providing tools and strategies for the employee to use when in distress).
- If you build the code of conduct together, it is more likely that you can support this code in your workplace.
- Determine the impact of the behaviour on the workplace, the public, and your team.
- Discuss the code of conduct openly and honestly with the employee that is demonstrating the behaviour and tell them the behaviour is unacceptable.
- Identify the consequences of the behaviour.
How Can Employers Support Distressed Employees?
Employers will want to support distressed employees without accepting bad behaviour. Some key questions you can ask the employee include the following:
- What can we do to assist you in meeting the expectations of professional behaviour in our workplace?
- What will we do in the workplace if unprofessional behaviour is present in the workplace?
- How can we support each other as a team to work professionally together?
- What will we do when the behaviour shows up again?
How Can Gowan Consulting Help?
Gowan Consulting can provide accommodation assessments, success coaching, training of managers on how to manage employees in distress, conflict resolution, and communication training. Learn more about our webinars and workshops at www.gowanhealth.com/store. Contact us to learn more about how we can help with your organization’s unique needs.
 “Understanding persons with psychological distress in primary health care,” Arvidsdotter et. al, Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, March 2015, doi: 10.1111/scs.12289. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/scs.12289
 “Mental Health Disability Rises,” BP Magazine, March 8, 2022, https://bpmmagazine.com/news/