November 24, 2015
In the recent case of Bellehumeur v Windsor Factory Supply Ltd, the appellant suffered from various “disabilities”, which had been reported to the respondent, and for which the respondent was found to have provided reasonable accommodation. The appellant was thereafter terminated for cause after he made violent threats towards another employee. The appellant alleged that his violent conduct towards the employee was a result of his mental disability, which the respondent had failed to accommodate, as required by the Ontario Human Rights Code and disputed that he had been terminated for just cause.
The trial judge concluded, as upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal, that the respondent was not made aware of the appellant’s mental disability and had no indication of the existence of such until after the appellant had been terminated. Accordingly, the Court found that the appellant’s disability was not a factor in the termination of his employment and that rather, he was terminated because he made violent threats against his co-worker.
The Ontario Court of Appeal also upheld the trial judge’s ruling that there was no duty upon the respondent to accommodate for an unknown disability and that the employee’s conduct was serious enough to amount to just cause for dismissal. The trial judge followed the analysis in the McKinley and Dowling and concluded in the particular circumstances of this case that the employment relationship could no longer exist.
While this case had a favourable outcome for the employer, it remains paramount that employer’s address reported and unreported accommodation requests, as appropriate, keeping in mind that accommodation issues are fact specific with respect to when a duty to accommodate arises for an employer and when and how an employer must discharge same.