Employer Fails Duty to Inquire into Employee's Mental Health

The BC Human Rights Tribunal recentlyfound that an employer discriminated against an employee who was suffering fromdepression when it dismissed her without inquiring into whether her inappropriatebehavior was due to a mental disability. The Tribunal awarded the employee$17,600 in lost wages and $5,000 for injury to dignity.

The employmentrelationship began in 2001. In the summer of 2009, the complainant took “stressleave” for two months. The employer was aware that stress was the reason forthe leave, and also that, prior to taking that leave, the employee had informedher supervisor that she suffered from depression.

Theemployer dismissed the complainant in the Fall of 2009, on the basis that (1) shewas curt and abrupt in her manner of speaking with co-workers and management;(2) she exhibited mood swings toward employees and management; (3) she refusedto take responsibility for her performance when these deficiencies were identifiedin 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 satisfactionof the employer.

The Tribunal concluded that the complainant wasdismissed because of behaviours consistent with her diagnosis of adjustmentdisorder and depression. Although thecomplainant did not expressly ask for accommodation for her depression or othermental health issues, the Tribunal found that the employer had a duty toinquire into whether her behaviour was due to her mental disability and whethershe required accommodation as a result. Failureto do so was a breach of the Human Rights Code.

This case highlights that an employer has a duty toinquire into whether an employee’s inappropriate behaviour is linked to amental health issue. Where the employer fails to make such inquiries andproceeds to terminate, or otherwise discipline an employee, it runs the risk ofbeing held in breach of the Human Rights Code and of failing to accommodate thedisabled employee.

Mackenzie v. Jace Holdings and another (No.4), 2012 BCHRT

If you have any questions regarding the information presented in this article, please contact Lindsie Thomson, Partner.