Friday 12 April 2013

"You're Fired!"

"You're fired!" ~ Donald Trump
Week after week we can tune into The Apprentice and watch business and real estate tycoon Donald Trump fire his apprentices, one by one with dramatic flair. Entertaining? I'll let you be the judge of that.
The reality is that it's much harder to get fired in the real world. It is, isn't it? Um, yes and no. Legally, the correct answer to that is yes. We have federal and provincial laws and a Human Rights Code to protect employee rights. The fact of the matter is that either many employers are ignorant of these or they choose to ignore them. Subsequently, many people lose their jobs without sufficient cause every day in Canada.
So why am I talking about termination of employment and labour law? This is a blog about mental health, right? You bet - I am getting to that.
A friend of mine, Melanie, was fired from her job two days ago. This friend of mine is also a mental health advocate who fights her own battles against mental illness: she suffers from GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) and social phobia.
Recently relocated to a brand new city, she was excited to quickly find a new job. Two months into that new job she awoke one day with a sudden anxiety attack. Unable to function and leave her home, she called in to work and left a message an hour before her scheduled start time. Later in the day Melanie received a call from the Director of Operations asking her why she wasn't at work. And here's where the story takes a turn.
Melanie was faced with the same question that all of us who suffer from mental illness will ask ourselves: If I call in sick to work and they ask what is wrong with me, do I tell them truth?
She chose the truth. The result? She was called in for a meeting the next day with the Director of Operations and the HR Manager. First sick day in two months, she discloses that she has a disability, and she is fired. Employment terminated. End of job. The Director's final parting shot? He said that she should have disclosed her illness when she applied for the job because he never would have hired her in the first place. He just couldn't "live with himself if something happened to her on the job."
I am going to give you a moment to process this. OK, here we go...
Under the Canadian Human Rights Code mental illness is considered a disability. That means that it is a protected ground - Canadian employers cannot discriminate against anyone who has a disability. The one exception to this rule is in the case of a Bona Fide Occupational Requirement (BFOR). For example, if you need to hire a delivery driver then you can discriminate against any applicants who are legally blind.
If you have a disability and disclose it during the recruitment/interview process for a job, as long as you can do the job, you cannot be discriminated against. If, as an employer, you are faced with two excellent candidates but one is more qualified, who do you hire? Now consider that that person, the one more qualified, has a disability that will NOT impact the work or that you CAN accommodate. Now who do you hire? Better be the same choice otherwise you have just made a wrong turn legally.
If you become disabled during the course of employment or you disclose that you have a disability after you have been hired there is a duty upon your employer to accommodate your disability up to the point of undue hardship. Undue hardship varies depending on the business. A multinational organization has a lot farther to go than a mom and pop corner grocery in terms of proving undue hardship.
And that is just the human rights side of the argument. I won't go into the employment standards acts, et al because this is supposed to be a blog and a not a novel.
I recently attended a conference hosted by the British Columbia Centre for Ability. The keynote speaker on day two was a businessman named Mark Wafer. Mr Wafer runs a chain of successful Tim Horton's franchises in Ontario and has chosen, since day one, to employ people with disabilities. This is what he knows as fact:
* 60% of people with disabilities require accommodation (only 4% require an accommodation that costs more than $500)
* Turnover is lower with people with disabilities
* Turnover is lower with able employees because they like that they are part of something good
* Lower turnover means more $$$ for business owners (that's the "business case" for doing the right thing, if you needed one)
My friend Melanie was unfairly discriminated against and illegally terminated from her job. Job loss impacts a person's self esteem, their earning capacity, their mental well being, as well as the Canadian economy. I wonder if Mr. Director of Operations can live with that? Can any of us live with that?
KB xo
Dedicated to Melanie and my Partners for Mental Health (PFMH) community and family! For more information about PMFH and their upcoming workplace campaign please visit this website:


  1. My heart goes out to your friend Melanie. I know the dilemma well. Thankfully I've been able to disclose my depression to my employer without any real consequences. But, I know for a fact, the outcome would have been different if I had told my last employer. It's still a tough thing to deal with.

  2. Hi Danielle,
    It's the dirty little secret that we are still discriminated against. Thanks for your comments and support to Melanie (and me!).

  3. Love it. I hope your friend is going to sue his ass or take some sort of action; wouldn't even need lawyers, small claims court would do the job. Best of luck!

  4. I smell a Human Rights tribunal coming up...

    On behalf of everyone who suffers from mental illness, I hope your friend has the courage to start the human rights complaints process so that at least one other person may be spared this hardship in the future.

  5. Hi Helen,
    Thanks for the comments - Human Rights Tribunal for sure! It made me so angry to hear her story. Luckily, she is a mental health advocate as well so I am sure she will use her story in the fight in some manner.

  6. This post brings light to the sad reality. I also have GAD and recently applied to Graduate schools and chose to disclose the information as I feel it's key to how I look at rehabilitation (applied to rehabilitation sciences). A average, 500+ hours of volunteering, excellent references, and no acceptances...makes one wonder.

  7. Thanks for your comments, Brianne. Discrimination is everywhere which is why we need to end stigma. I am so sorry for your experience.

  8. I got terminated from a school because the management bros got wind of the depression that I *used* to suffer from. I'd been doing just fine both psychologically and professionally for years when this happened.

    I took them to human rights tribunal where they essentially blackmailed me in what was supposed to be a mediation session.

  9. Fighting and advocating for yourself and for what is right can be hard and doesn't always guarantee that justice will prevail. The reality is that sometimes the outcome just sucks. I am so sorry to hear about your experience.


"Eating Disorders: What Are We Truly Hungry For?"

    For two years in my 30's I had an eating disorder: bulimia. It took me ten years to admit that to anyone, even my doctor. I f...