The BC Human Rights Tribunal recently found that an employer discriminated against an employee who was suffering from depression when it dismissed her without inquiring into whether her inappropriate behavior was due to a mental disability. The Tribunal awarded the employee $17,600 in lost wages and $5,000 for injury to dignity.
The employment relationship began in 2001. In the summer of 2009, the complainant took “stress leave” for two months. The employer was aware that stress was the reason for the leave, and also that, prior to taking that leave, the employee had informed her supervisor that she suffered from depression.
The employer dismissed the complainant in the Fall of 2009, on the basis that (1) she was curt and abrupt in her manner of speaking with co-workers and management; (2) she exhibited mood swings toward employees and management; (3) she refused to take responsibility for her performance when these deficiencies were identified in her performance evaluations; (4) the employer considered her to be gossipy, manipulative, disruptive and demotivating; and (5) that she was unlikely, unwilling or unable to change these behaviours and attitudes to the satisfaction of the employer.
The Tribunal concluded that the complainant was dismissed because of behaviours consistent with her diagnosis of adjustment disorder and depression. Although the complainant did not expressly ask for accommodation for her depression or other mental health issues, the Tribunal found that the employer had a duty to inquire into whether her behaviour was due to her mental disability and whether she required accommodation as a result. Failure to do so was a breach of the Human Rights Code.
This case highlights that an employer has a duty to inquire into whether an employee's inappropriate behaviour is linked to a mental health issue. Where the employer fails to make such inquiries and proceeds to terminate, or otherwise discipline an employee, it runs the risk of being held in breach of the Human Rights Code and of failing to accommodate the disabled employee.