Friday, 12 April 2013
"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?
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: http://www.notmyselftoday.ca/home
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