Worker tries to pin employer for ‘depression, anxiety’ and ‘chronic mental stress’

Alleges he suffered from 'poison work environment, management style'

Worker tries to pin employer for ‘depression, anxiety’ and ‘chronic mental stress’

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario recently dealt with a case involving a worker who alleged employment discrimination based on disability, contrary to the Human Rights Code.

The worker, who suffered from depression and anxiety, attributed his mental health issues to a "poison work environment and management style" at his workplace from 2008 through 2019.

He claimed that his employer discriminated against him by failing to address his allegations of workplace harassment and by terminating his employment.

The case highlighted the procedural aspects of discrimination cases. It also discussed the boundaries between interpersonal conflicts and actionable discrimination, as well as the role of other adjudicative bodies in resolving such disputes.

The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board

Prior to filing his application with the Human Rights Tribunal, the worker had applied to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) for benefits related to Chronic Mental Stress.

In his submissions to the WSIB, he attributed his stress to fifteen "events" which he characterized as incidents of workplace bullying or harassment.

However, in a decision dated April 9, 2020, a WSIB Case Manager denied the worker's claim, essentially because none of the alleged events amounted to harassment:

"The WSIB's Chronic Mental Stress (CMS) policy states that interpersonal conflicts between workers and their supervisors and co-workers are generally considered to be a typical feature of normal employment,” the decision said.

“Consequently, such interpersonal conflicts are not generally considered to be a substantial work-related stressor unless the conflict amounts to workplace harassment or results in conduct that a reasonable person would perceive as egregious or abusive," it added.

The Human Rights Tribunal's analysis

Due to the Board’s denial, the worker filed an application with the Human Rights Tribunal. At the preliminary hearing, the Tribunal considered whether the application should be dismissed because another proceeding had appropriately dealt with the substance of the application, or because it had no reasonable prospect of success.

The Tribunal found that the WSIB's decision-making process was a "proceeding" for the purposes of section 45.1 of the Human Rights Code, which allows the Tribunal to dismiss an application if another proceeding has appropriately dealt with its substance.

The Tribunal was satisfied that the WSIB proceeding appropriately dealt with the allegations prior to April 9, 2020, and dismissed those allegations.

Termination of employment

Consequently, the only remaining allegation of discrimination was related to the termination of the worker's employment. The worker was a member of a union that had a Collective Agreement with the employer.

Clause 9.03(h) of the worker’s Collective Agreement provided that employees would be deemed terminated after 24 months' absence due to "non-occupational illness."

The worker was given notice that unless he provided medical documentation confirming he was cleared to return to work by May 16, 2022, his employment would be terminated in accordance with Clause 9.03(h).

On May 16, 2022, the worker received a letter confirming the termination of his employment.

Was there discrimination?

The Tribunal found that the allegation related to the termination of employment had no reasonable prospect of success.

The worker did not dispute that his employment was terminated in accordance with the Collective Agreement, nor did he allege that the Collective Agreement itself was discriminatory.

The worker disputed that his disability was a "non-occupational illness," but the Tribunal concluded that this issue was central to the WSIB Case Manager's decision and its re-litigation was barred by section 45.1 of the Human Rights Code.

As such, the Tribunal found that the worker's submission that the termination of his employment was discriminatory lacked any factual basis, did not engage the Human Rights Code, and had no reasonable prospect of success. Thus, the application was dismissed in its entirety.

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