Legal Rights When Suffering From Postpartum Depression in the Workplace
  • Thursday, 14 April 2022

Legal Rights When Suffering From Postpartum Depression in the Workplace

Motherhood is an exciting time for many people expecting a new addition to their family. After a gruelling pregnancy, the birth of a baby is sure to bring joy to any new parent and their loved ones.

However, giving birth also comes with a new set of challenges, and for 23% of new moms in Ontario and the rest of the country, one of these challenges includes postpartum depression. This condition could pose significant challenges, especially when maternity leave ends and the mother wishes to return to the workplace.

This post will outline the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression and discuss possible accommodations you could ask for, including short-term disability benefits and long-term disability benefits.

What is Postpartum Depression?

Although some people might misconstrue postpartum depression as simply a fancier name for “baby blues,” there is a significant difference between the two.

The baby blues generally don’t last long and involve mood swings, anxiety and spells of crying shortly after a mother gives birth. These feelings usually last for a few days to a week or two, after which you will most likely feel better.

If depressive feelings or the baby blues persist or worsen, this might be a case of postpartum depression. As observed in new parents, postpartum depression is a type of major depression that is clinically similar to any other depressive episodes one may get in life. The only difference is that postpartum depression happens soon after a new mom gives birth.

Some women also begin experiencing depression during pregnancy in a condition called prenatal or antenatal depression. This ongoing depression could very well lead to similar feelings postpartum.

Employees who suffer from postpartum depression or other disabilities are often entitled to government support programs to help maintain a good quality of life for themselves and their postpartum baby.

Signs and Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

There is no significant difference between regular depressive episodes and postpartum depression, except for when it occurs, which is after a mother gives birth. Both are mental illnesses that entitle one to medical help and disability benefits

Below are some of the main symptoms of postpartum depression.

  • Depressed mood. This involves prolonged feelings of sadness, hopelessness or emptiness. Bouts of anxiety may also accompany these feelings.
  • Anhedonia. This symptom involves the inability to feel pleasure, even in the things or the company of those one used to enjoy, including spending time with the baby.
  • Weight/Appetite changes. One may end up losing or gaining weight due to changes in appetite.
  • Sleep disturbance and fatigue. One may have trouble falling asleep or end up sleeping too much. These states are common in new mothers, which makes postpartum depression difficult to spot.
  • Changes in physical activity. One may feel physically slowed down or sluggish. Sometimes, this may also manifest in restlessness or irritability.  
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt. These feelings might be magnified, especially when the new mom doesn’t feel a desire to bond with or take care of the baby.
  • Brain fog. Brain fog, a common symptom of depression, is when someone, such as a new mother, has trouble concentrating or remembering things. Sleep deprivation makes this symptom worse.
  • Suicidal ideation. There might be recurring thoughts of death or suicide in more severe cases.

Work Accommodations and Disability Benefits

Due to the crippling symptoms of postpartum depression (and depression in general), it qualifies as a disability. 

According to the Accessible Canada Act, a disability is “any impairment, including a physical, mental, intellectual, cognitive, learning, communication or sensory impairment — or a functional limitation — whether permanent, temporary or episodic in nature, or evident or not, that, in interaction with a barrier, hinders a person’s full and equal participation in society.”

Postpartum depression would, therefore, entitle sufferers to reasonable accommodations in the workplace and short or long-term disability benefits. 

Work Accommodations

Postpartum depression can have different levels of severity. If you want to go back to work but are still experiencing symptoms, you could ask for reasonable accommodations to make the new routine easier to handle.

These accommodations could take the form of adjustments to your schedule. Management could allow you to come to work a little later or leave work early. You could also be given longer or more frequent breaks.

Your workplace could also make adjustments to your workload. In consideration of your condition, which could impact your capabilities, it might be a good idea to reduce your workload for the time being. These adjustments would help reduce any added stress stemming from work duties.

Short-term/Long-term Disability Benefits

Most employees are expected to return to work after their maternity leave ends. However, your doctor might advise you to take additional time off, especially if you still suffer from postpartum depression.

In such cases, you could qualify for short or long-term disability benefits from your workplace insurance. These benefits could provide a portion or whole of your monthly earnings while you cannot work.

If you don’t have a private insurance plan, you could apply for disability benefits under the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). Applications for a CPP disability benefit may take a few months, especially if you don’t have a terminal illness or a grave condition as specified in their criteria.

Suffering from a mental disorder that hinders your ability to work is a significant challenge to deal with. If your insurance company or workplace denies you the appropriate accommodations or benefits, seek legal assistance immediately.

Pro Tip

Postpartum depression, like many mental health conditions, can be a serious medical matter. With help and time to rest, you can overcome this difficult period of your life and begin to feel good about yourself and your child again.

The Right to an Accommodation at Work for Postpartum Depression

In the Canadian Human Rights Act, every individual has the right to have their needs accommodated without discrimination, particularly discrimination based on disability. 

Pregnant and postpartum female employees, therefore, have the right to enjoy reasonable accommodations to aid in their workplace performance and avoid unnecessary stress that might adversely impact their condition.

The Right to Take Leave for Postpartum Depression

Women employees in Ontario have the right to take maternity leave of up to 17 weeks, which may include late-stage pregnancy and the few weeks after childbirth.

Parents of a newborn child may also take parental benefits that last for up to 40 weeks or extended parental benefits for up to 69 weeks. These benefits will provide a portion of a parent’s income to support them in the period after childbirth, especially if they cannot make it back to work due to symptoms of sadness or postpartum depression.

The Right Not to Be Discriminated Against by My Employer Because of Postpartum Depression

Women employees who suffer from postpartum depression have a right not to be discriminated against by their employer due to their condition. 

Canada has several laws and programs to ensure that people are protected from discrimination in various sectors, including pregnant women and persons with disabilities. 

Laws and programs, such as the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Employment Equity Act, the Canada Labour Code and the Human Rights Maturity Model, all work together to help employers create better work environments and for employees to know their rights.

Know More About Your Legal Rights in the Workplace. Contact Diamond Law Today!

Suffering from postpartum depression is already difficult enough. Knowing your rights in the workplace will help you better manage your needs and assert your rights when it comes to your employment.

Diamond & Diamond Law’s expert team of workplace lawyers will help you navigate the different laws covering your condition and fight for the benefits you are entitled to. Their services would provide you with the help and relief you need in this difficult time. 

You don’t have to go through your postpartum depression alone. Call Diamond & Diamond Lawyers today at 1-800-567-HURT for a free legal consultation.

Are you experiencing depression at any stage of pregnancy? Contact Diamond Law and learn how you may be entitled to the legal protections.

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