Beware of the Danger of Hasty Terminations! Employer Pays $65,000 in Damages to 1-day Employee

 

With COVID-19 still raging, employers and employees continue to face challenging situations and decisions. The BC Human Rights Tribunal (the “Tribunal”)  continues to indicate that hasty terminations can have dire consequences and thus, should be carefully thought through. An example we will cover in this article is from their 2020 decision in Benton v Richmond Plastics, 2020 BCHRT 82.

Rachel Benton who made the complaint to the Tribunal was hired to work for Richmond Plastics Ltd. (the “Employer”). On her first day of work, Ms. Benton told a co-worker and management of a number of mental health conditions she had. On that same day, the Employer fired Ms. Benton. The Employer’s Chief Financial Officer told Ms. Benton that she was fired because her medications and/or mental health made the officer feel “uncomfortable”. Ms. Benton complained to the Tribunal that her disabilities were a factor in the termination of her employment. The Tribunal held that the Employer had indeed violated s.13 of the Human Rights Code (“Code”).

Background

The Employer hired Ms. Benton as a receptionist/administrative assistant. On her first – and last – day, Ms. Benton arrived early and began her training. By 10:00 am, the co-worker training Ms. Benton decided that Ms. Benton was not a good fit and further was incompetent: the co-worker reported the same to the Employer (note that Ms. Benton’s work competency was heavily disputed by Ms. Benton and her previous employer supported that Ms. Benton was in fact competent).

Following this brief stint of training, Ms. Benton had a facility tour and filled out forms from a human resources employee. In so doing, Ms. Benton disclosed medications she was taking and in communicating with the co-worker, told her that she had a number of mental illnesses.

The co-worker had reassured Ms. Benton that the Employer was very “accepting”. Before lunch, the same co-worker again went to the Employer to tell that Ms. Benton was not a good fit. In the afternoon, Ms. Benton was invited to a meeting and accused of her failure to tell about her medication.

Ms. Benton was told that her taking of the medication or mental disabilities, made the Employer feel “uncomfortable”. The Employer had provided no other explanation for Ms. Benton’s termination: the only explanation was her mental health. Both the start of her employment and the unanticipated and abrupt end occurred within the span of 6.5 hours.

Analysis

The Tribunal was clear that it was not necessary for Ms. Benton to prove that her mental illnesses were the only or overriding factor in the Employer’s decision to terminate but simply that they were a factor.

In view of the foregoing, the Tribunal held that it was more probable than not that Ms. Benton’s disabilities were a factor in her termination. This is somewhat alarming as the President of the Employer who decided to terminate Ms. Benton’s employment did not know about the mental disabilities. However, the Tribunal said that the CFO who hired and fired Ms. Benton knew and had sufficient role and authority.

In view of the nature of discrimination against Ms. Benton, Ms. Benton’s vulnerability, and the effect on Ms. Benton, the Tribunal awarded Ms. Benton $30,000 as damages for injury to her dignity, feelings, and self-respect. Further in consideration of the effects that discrimination had on Ms. Benton, the Tribunal awarded 12 months of wage loss, amounting to $35,000.

Takeaway

It is crucial to remember that the Tribunal stressed that mental disabilities did not have to be the only cause, and not even the principal cause for Ms. Benton’s termination.

While the Tribunal acknowledged that there may be other non-discriminatory factors that contributed to Ms. Benton’s termination, what really mattered was that the mental disabilities were in fact, a factor.

Another major point to remember is that the effect of the discrimination on the terminated employee is not within the employer’s control or foreseeability. In this case, the Employer was ordered to pay $65,000 in damages despite only having Ms. Benton employed for one day.

This case serves as a reminder for employers to be cautious in their decision making and the reasons given for terminations. This is particularly important when an employee has disclosed health issues to anyone at the workplace.

Note to our Readers: This is not legal advice. If you are looking for legal advice in relation to a particular matter, please contact our Employment & Labour Group.

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