City loses decision of the labor council against dismissed curator

The council found that the city was failing to accommodate a mental disability well.

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A labor council decision to fire a custodian employed by the city of Saskatoon highlights some of the complexities of managing mental health situations in the workplace.

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The 2020 arbitration decision found that the city wrongly terminated an employee of the Lawson Civic Center in 2016. The employee’s name has been removed from the published decision to protect his privacy.

The worker started in 1989 in an informal role with the city and eventually became a permanent employee in 1994 at another city recreation facility. The documents state that he had a history of mental health problems since his late teens, having been assessed by psychiatrists and diagnosed with conditions such as schizoaffective disorder and bipolar disorder.

The decision notes that the employee had positive evaluations for a few years, but for the most part describes a long history of conflict between the employee and his supervisors and colleagues, stretching from the early 2000s to the mid-2000s. the 2010s find him jobs in other departments through housing.

In 2012, a psychiatrist worked with the employee and he was reinstated as a full-time custodian at Lawson Heights.

In 2015, he received the first of two suspensions, this one for three days. The decision outlines that the suspension followed a string of incidents, including the employee who used his keys to enter the leisure center after hours and swim naked in the pool.

Towards the end of 2015, the employee’s supervisor reported issues, which did not lead to discipline, but did lead to a 2016 meeting with two managers, when the employee reportedly “became defensive and verbally abusive.” Shortly after, there were two more instances where he swore at regulators. This led to a second suspension, this time for five days.

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The worker returned from suspension in September 2016. Within the first week, another series of conflicts arose, including a diatribe in which he called his superior a Nazi.

The decision of the labor council noted that the city authorities knew that the employee had a disability. However, it appears that only occupational health consultants knew about his specific diagnosis and kept that information to themselves due to privacy concerns.

This led the council to conclude that accommodating disabled employees and coping with discipline and performance issues appeared to be happening “on different tracks”.

The council concluded that the city had the right to ask the employee if he was taking his medication or if he had a mental illness. The board instead found that the city “failed to meet its obligation to accommodate because it failed to assess whether any of the termination incidents were related to Grievor’s disability.”

The decision does not specify any specific financial sanction. The board of directors ordered the employee to return to his old job, retroactive to the date he was fired. This was on the condition that a psychiatrist gave him permission to return, specific training for his supervisor, and a stipulation that management could share details about his condition with other employees at their discretion.

The board rejected a request from the city to consider a remedy in favor of the worker through compensation rather than reparation. The board rejected the request, but noted that the parties could always choose to negotiate such an arrangement.

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