Home Accommodation Workers can’t expect ‘perfect solution’ in accommodation, tribunal rules in dismissing allergy-related complaint against health authority

Workers can’t expect ‘perfect solution’ in accommodation, tribunal rules in dismissing allergy-related complaint against health authority

by HR Law Canada

The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal has dismissed a complaint by a worker against her employer, the Interior Health Authority (IHA), over a chemical allergy.

The worker, TS, had alleged discrimination due to the IHA’s failure to adequately accommodate her allergy, considered a physical disability. The tribunal, however, found no reasonable prospect of success for the complaint at a hearing, thus concluding the case.

TS’ complaint, filed on Nov. 7, 2018, stemmed from her claim of severe allergic reactions to chemicals used at her workplace. She asserted that despite the IHA’s efforts from May to September 2018, residual airborne contaminants continued to affect her, preventing her from working. TS claimed the situation led to loss of wages, benefits, pension, sleep, and caused extreme anxiety and depression.

The IHA denied these allegations, detailing its accommodation measures during her long-term disability (LTD) leave from July 2016 to February 2018 and subsequent paid leave. They highlighted efforts like offering alternative positions and modifying her work environment to reduce exposure to the specific chemical, DDA, which she was allergic to. Despite these actions, TS refused to return to work, raising concerns about air quality and additional allergies.

In its decision, the tribunal recognized the IHA’s extensive measures to accommodate her allergy to DDA. These included providing an isolated office with a standalone air filtration system and reducing the use of cleaning agents containing DDA. The tribunal also noted her failure to cooperate in the accommodation process by not providing medical documentation for additional allergies and declining the IHA’s offer to consult with occupational health specialists.

The tribunal emphasized that while employers must reasonably accommodate employees to the point of undue hardship, employees cannot expect a perfect solution. They must cooperate and accept reasonable accommodations. The tribunal found that the IHA had taken significant steps to accommodate her known allergy and that TS had not sufficiently participated in the accommodation process for her additional, undocumented allergies.

This ruling underscores the importance of cooperative dialogue in the accommodation process and sets a precedent for how employers can demonstrate due diligence in accommodating employees’ disabilities. The decision also highlights the balance between employer efforts and employee responsibilities in creating a workable solution for workplace accommodations.

For more information, see Smith v. Interior Health Authority, 2023 BCHRT 209 (CanLII)

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