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B.C. plumbing and heating company loses bid to have mental health complaint from former GM dismissed without hearing

by HR Law Canada

A B.C. plumbing and heating company has lost its bid to have a human rights hearing involving its former general manager tossed out without a hearing.

The general manager, TB, was terminated from his position at North Central Plumbing and Heating following a leave of absence due to depression. He alleged that his termination constituted discrimination based on mental disability, a violation of section 13 of the Human Rights Code. The company, owned by DL, contested these claims, asserting just cause for the termination.

Death of his father

TB’s leave began after the death of his father in June 2019. During this period, his role as general manager was filled by another employee, and he was eventually instructed by the employer to go on short-term disability. This turn of events, according to TB, was inconsistent with the company’s treatment of other employees who had taken leave under similar circumstances.

Despite being on short-term disability, TB actively sought to recover and anticipated returning to his role. However, his mental health issues persisted, and his return was continuously postponed. During this time, he was reported to have engaged in activities like camping and working as a projectionist, which were reported to the disability provider by North Central.

Termination of STD

Upon the termination of his short-term disability benefits on Oct. 2, 2019,, discussions about TB’s return to work ensued. He was offered a salesperson position instead of his original role, a suggestion he claims was due to the perceived stress of the general manager position. The company, however, denies this, stating the offer was an “accommodation” to facilitate his return.

TB did not return to North Central in any capacity. From his perspective, North Central had laid him off. On Oct. 7, 2019, he requested severance and his record of employment (ROE).

He later started working with a competitor, which was brought up by North Central in its defense. The company also raised allegations of sexual harassment and policy violations against TB after his leave, which he denied.

The Tribunal, in its ruling, focused on the timing of TB’s termination, noting, “The employment relationship ended directly after (TB) went on leave because he was unable to work due to mental health issues.”

Only needs to be ‘one’ factor in dismissal

This timing, according to the Tribunal, allows for an inference that his mental disability was a factor in the termination. The Tribunal further stated, “It is possible… that an employer could have just cause to terminate a person’s employment but still discriminate against them if the decision was at all connected to a protected characteristic – here, (his) mental disability.”

It noted that TB only needs to establish that his mental disability was “one” factor that led to his termination, “not that it was the only or overriding cause.”

As a result, the Tribunal denied the company’s application to dismiss the complaint, paving the way for a full hearing on the matter.

For more information, see Bruintjes v. North Central Plumbing & Heating Ltd. and another, 2023 BCHRT 162 (CanLII)

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