August 29, 2008
The Ontario Divisional Court released a decision earlier this month upholding a discrimination ruling of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario in a case argued by the Commission. The Court’s decision in Lane v. ADGA Group Consultants Inc. of Ottawa warrants all our attention because it reaffirms that employees with mental health disabilities have a right to accommodation of their needs under Ontario’s Human Rights Code.
After being hired as the most qualified candidate, Mr. Lane, a quality assurance analyst, was fired eight days into the job because he requested accommodation for his mental illness. The Court found that the employer had a dismissive attitude towards Mr. Lane and showed disregard for his bipolar condition. When he lost his job, Mr. Lane went into a state of full-blown mania which led to hospitalization for several days, and began a vicious cycle that led to marital breakdown, the loss of his family home, and further instability.
We know from our work at the Commission that there are many equally devastating stories of stigmatization and discrimination faced by individuals with mental illness and their families on a daily basis at home, in schools and when accessing services.
This decision shows us how we can help. It clarifies what steps employers have to take so employees with mental illness receive the accommodation they need. This means obtaining information relevant to the employee’s ability to do the job, which may include medical condition, prognosis for recovery, job capabilities and ability to do alternate work.
The Court’s findings and Mr. Lane’s circumstances show that people with serious mental health issues can effectively deal with their condition and be productive members of society. But that requires all of us to overcome our fears and biases and give individuals with mental illness the dignity, respect and equal treatment to which everyone is entitled under our human rights laws.