Grocery store pays $20,000 for human rights code violation

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Victoria grocery store Thrifty Foods will pay a former employee more than $20,000 after the Human Rights Tribunal after firing her over behaviour such as mood swings and irritability, which were related to her mental illness.

Sharon Mackenzie, who suffered from depression for most of her life, worked for the company for eight years, from 2001. The store claimed it dismissed her because she was curt and abrupt with co-workers and management, was considered to be gossipy and manipulative, and she refused to take responsibility for such behaviour.

However, the tribunal found that despite knowing of Mackenzie’s disability, which was linked to her behaviour, the store made no effort to accommodate.

“Thrifty’s had a duty to inquire into whether the behaviour exhibited by Ms. Mackenzie was due to her mental disability and whether she required any accommodation,” tribunal member Catherine McCreary wrote in the ruling.

“They did not fulfill that duty. It is the employer’s responsibility to obtain relevant information about the employee’s current medical condition, prognosis for recovery, ability to perform job duties and capabilities for alternate work,” McCreary added.

Mackenzie was treated with medication and cognitive therapy and reported that she could manage her life outside the store because her workplace was the source of the most stress. She left work on “stress leave” for two months in summer 2009 and was fired several months later.

The tribunal has ordered the store to pay Ms. Mackenzie more than $17,600 for lost wages and $5,000 for injury to dignity.

Have your say: Are you wary of hiring someone with a mental illness?


  • David Hunt on 2012-11-05 2:19:58 PM

    This is absurd. She could not continue to do the duties she was hired for, disrupted the rest of the employees and now the employer must become a mental health expert and spend more time on this than running their business.

  • Sara on 2012-11-06 8:47:42 AM

    Really David? Is the concept of Duty to Accommodate really new to you?

  • David Hunt on 2012-11-06 12:17:21 PM

    Sara, are you a government employee or a union member?
    This is a quote from the BC Humans Right Commission."undue hardship to the employer or service provider, considering health, safety and cost"

    First of all, the type of business involved would have a lot of interaction between the employees and customers and people who work in these type of jobs should be suited to that.
    This employee created a lot of problems which could damage the business and cost it. There is also the health "well-being of the other employees" These two factors are covered in the quote above and are cause for dismissal. The big problem is they let it go on for far too long.

  • Richard Wood on 2012-11-06 12:48:00 PM

    OK.So she is upsetting the rest of the whole staff and she claims that "her workplace was the source of most of her stress"
    If you start entertaining nonsense like this it means that you literally cannot fire anybody. I am not surprised the tribunal issued a ruling like this.

  • Joan on 2012-11-07 1:33:58 PM

    I am wondering what would have been a reasobable accomodation? If it was the job that was causing her so much stress, why did her Dr. approve her to return to work? Maybe we arent seeing all the details here....

  • Val on 2012-11-07 2:26:23 PM

    I agree in principal to the "Duty to Accommodate", but i think that there could be situations where it is taken to far. The employer must spend way too much time and money on an employee that could be playing the system. In addition, there are physicians that will accommodate their patients stress complaints without question. How can the employer work around that without hiring their own physician - which would then be viewed as biased and then cost the employer more money.

  • Richard Wood on 2012-11-08 12:51:38 PM

    Joan and Val, I agree with your comments, we do not have enough info to make a decision. A recent experience...
    We recently hired a guy from overseas who had good references, all the people experience needed as he had been a high ranking official in the army for many years. He spoke like a gentleman and it all sounded like he had excellent people skills and the experience to go with it. What happened was a disaster, he had issues and would scream and belittle our staff. We have 12 employees and no one wanted to work with him, some refusing point blank. He upset everyone. If we fired him and the tribunal heard this well spoken man they would have believed him hands down. If they (or anyone else) saw the secretly taken video of him verbally abusing one female staff member, they would be very shocked. So we don't really have enough info to know what the truth really is and I don't have confidence in the Tribunal that they can get to the real truth. Small businesses are having a tough enough time as it is without providing mental medicare. I don't think we are being held responsible and accountable enough for our actions, our culture does not embrace that. (imo)

  • Sheldon on 2012-11-19 12:20:00 PM

    I am a person with a disbility....I am deaf...but I can speak...I am responsible to ensure I am qualified and able to do the career I am in. The employer has a duty to do the same, undue hardship to the employer is defined and laid out. I have had people discriminate against me because they are too lazy to educate themselves to fully understand what my disability is all about. I am glad I do not work with David or Richard. Sounds like to me you need to have more life experience. As I have found employers who claim employment equity...only practice it to the convenient disability. Walk a mile in the other persons shoes to see what they see.

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