In a decision issued on February 16, 2018, the BC Human Rights Tribunal held that an employee was discriminated against when his employer terminated his employment following absenteeism due to his depression and anxiety (considered mental disabilities per the BC Human Rights Code).
The Complainant was a shop helper employee in the fabrication department of the Respondent employer Axton Inc, a global heavy industry manufacturing company. Soon after he started working there in 2019, he began missing work due to his depression and anxiety. He was reluctant to disclose this to the employer due to the stigma surrounding mental health conditions. When he became completely disabled from working for a period, he decided to disclose the depression and anxiety. Rather than inquiring into whether he had a mental health condition disabling him from working and accommodating that condition, the employer terminated his employment.
Axton argued that it terminated the Complainant’s employment before it knew or reasonably ought to have known that he had a mental disability. Alternatively, it argued that it accommodated his disability to the point of undue hardship.
The Complainant was 34-years-old at the time of the hearing. He had suffered experienced symptoms of depression and anxiety for most of his life. Following a significant personal loss in 2017, he was diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive disorder and treated for same starting in 2018.
The Complainant started work in February, 2019. He began leaving work early and missing work soon after that. There were occasions when he did not call in to the workplace to report his absence because of his anxiety and depression symptoms and trying to find a tactful way to explain it. His last day of work was in March, 2019. His anxiety and depression symptoms made him unable to continue attending. He had only mentioned “personal issues” to the employer before that. He had not yet disclosed his disabilities.
A couple of weeks after the Complainant’s last day attending work, the employer sent the Complainant an email asking how he was doing because they had not yet heard from him. The Complainant called a representative for the employer later that day and explained that he was dealing with mental health issues. The Complainant later sent an email confirming that he was dealing with mental issues and did not know when he could return to work, but that he liked his job and wanted to return.
The employer later terminated the Complainant’s employment without making further inquiries about whether he might be experiences issues relating to a mental disability.
The Tribunal held that there was a nexus between the Complainant’s disability and the adverse impact he experienced (job termination) because he was terminated due to absenteeism and the absenteeism was mostly due to the disability. Discrimination was thus established.
The Complainant was awarded $75 for the cost of his steel toed boots that were left at the workplace and not returned to him. In awarding the Complainant $20,000 in compensation for injury to his dignity, feelings, and self-respect, the Tribunal recognized at paragraph 115 that termination is considered the “ultimate employment-related consequence” and that the loss of employment warrants compensation at the high-end of the range.
The Complainant had gone on EI sickness benefits from the time of termination to August, 2019 and then started to look for work in September 2019 before starting a new job in October, 2019. The Tribunal awarded him lost wages for the 4 weeks that he spent looking for work as well as for the difference between incomes at the two jobs for a period of one week. The total wage loss awarded was $2,962.50.
The Tribunal also ordered that the employer take remedial steps regarding the discrimination and pay the Complainant costs in the amount of $250.