Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Nonsensical Ruling Extraordinaire

"The issue for determination in this matter is not whether the complainant was drinking on a given day but rather whether [the employer] made reasonable efforts to accommodate the complainant as soon as it was aware that she had a disability and special needs associated with that disability."
"[Instead, I find that members of the [health authority's] staff relied on their experiences with other staff who had required accommodation relating to addiction and on their own personal experiences."
"Information of that sort is precisely the type of information that cannot be relied on as the basis for accommodating an employee. Each individual is entitled to an accommodation which is based on an individualized assessment of his or her specific needs."
Sherri Walsh, Manitoba human rights adjudicator
A provincial health agency, in other words, cannot staff itself with reliable health care workers that it deems through experience will serve their clients' needs well. Should such a personal-care home fail to accommodate not the needs of their health-vulnerable patients, but the perceived needs of an employee whose penchant for indulging in excessive alcohol consumption renders her capability to adequately serve the needs of patients in her care in a dangerous or faulty manner, it is they who are faulted.

Alcoholism is viewed now as a disability, and certainly alcoholism does disable the individual from operating in a responsible, professional manner. Health-care work at any level, and excessive consumption of alcohol represent a threat to the well-being of those dependent on health-care workers to be professionally capable in their ability to follow through on their responsibilities.

That said, using the language of disability becomes an absurd crutch where an alcoholic is excused from responsibility in exercising the required discipline to either abstain from alcohol or seek work in another profession. Linda Horrocks, who worked as a health care aide at a personal-care home operated by the Northern Regional Health Authority in Flin Flon, Manitoba, was suspended from employment because of her alcoholism.

One of her co-workers reported her to be in a drunken condition. The administration of the personal-care group did in fact, seek to accommodate this woman. They permitted her to return to work with several conditions. One, that she abstain from alcohol on and off the job, and second, that she seek remedial counselling. She signed an agreement that she would adhere to the conditions.

A year later she was let go when two reports that she had been drinking -- once in a grocery store and once during a telephone conversation with a manager -- came to the attention of her employer. She had been given the opportunity to retain her employment under conditions that she herself agreed with, but was unable to honour, in the final analysis.

The Manitoba Human Rights Commission has found a Manitoba health care aide was discriminated against when she was fired for allegedly failing to abstain from alcohol.

In her defence she denied she had returned to drinking, claiming she had undergone addiction counselling. She filed a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, and Ms. Walsh was appointed to hear the matter and reach a conclusion. At the hearing, the regional health authority described its efforts to accommodate Ms. Horrocks, emphasizing that the accommodation had to be balanced against the need to protect the safety of those dependent on the health-care system.

The adjudicator, ruling that alcohol addiction is recognized as a disability under the human rights code, cited a similar case and ruled that health authorities had failed in their responsibility to accommodate the woman's 'disability' since they failed to seek expert advice when they drew up the conditions for her return to work.

"Financially this was very damaging. We had to use food banks and we were not able to afford things that we were accustomed to, like cable or the Internet. I couldn't afford to drive my own car", Ms. Horrocks explained. Failing to mention that she was under a court order not to consume alcohol after being charged with impaired driving.

The adjudicator ruled that Linda Horrocks is entitled to reinstatement, to have three years' back pay along with an added $10,000 as compensation for injury to her indignity. "I am willing and happy to return to work for the NRHA. I have no problems working for them. I think that everyone is professional and we can all work in a professional manner."

Quite the forgiving statement from a woman given authority to vindicate her sense of entitlement to continue considering herself a professional health care aide, lack of commitment to remaining sober notwithstanding.
"The region is disappointed in the commission's decision, however we respect the office of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission. We are reviewing the decision to assess its impact. We will take steps to ensure patient safety is not compromised, as that remains a top priority for us."
Northern Regional Health Authority, Winnipeg, Manitoba‚Äč

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