The Complainant worked with the Yukon Department of Environment. During his employment, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after experiencing an acute manic episode. He returned to work the following year. His condition involved a depressive phase for several months in the winter, followed by hypomania in the spring. Hypomania entails symptoms such as a reduced need for sleep, increased energy levels, increased mental acuity but at times a reduced ability to focus and concentrate for long periods.
Upon returning to work, the Complainant proactively educated management and his fellow employees about his condition. The department accommodated his condition by permitting flexible work arrangements. This included allowing him to take more frequent breaks, restructuring his work tasks and providing him permission to work from home. Several years later, the Complainant started a temporary assignment with the department. At this time, he informed the Deputy Minister (DM) that he was in a seasonal hypomanic phase. At one point, he attended a meeting, where he criticized a project and engaged in behaviour that the DM characterized as “extremely aggressive”, “argumentative” and “disruptive”.
Subsequently, the Complainant received a letter form the DM directing him to leave work immediately and seek medical assistance. The letter stated that the Complainant would be on paid sick leave and that he would be provided with support such that he could return to work as soon as possible. Though the Complainant did see his family physician, he did not request a medical assessment. During this time, he also refused to stay away from work and work duties. The Respondent required the Complainant to provide a psychiatric assessment prior to returning to work.
As a result of these events, the Complainant filed a complaint with the Yukon Human Rights Commission (“the Commission”), alleging that he was discriminated against on the basis of mental disability in the context of his employment. He filed the complaint against his supervisor, the DM, and his employer, the Government of Yukon (“the Respondents”). He alleged that their behaviour was in contravention of the following sections of the Yukon Human Rights Act (“the Act”):
- Section 7(h), which prohibits discrimination based on mental disability;
- Section 8, which requires employers to accommodate for those with disabilities; and
- Section 9(b), which prohibits discrimination in connection with any aspect of employment.
The Yukon Human Rights Board of Adjudication considered the following issues:
- Did the Respondent’s stereotypical beliefs about bipolar disorder result in discrimination against the Complainant?
- Were the actions of the Respondent discrimination? These actions included the mandatory leave, the Complainant’s isolation from the workplace and the requirement for psychiatric assessment.
- Did the Respondents take reasonable steps to accommodate the Complainant, to the point of undue hardship?
- Did the absence of a policy regarding employees with mental disability negatively affect the Complainant?
First, the Board did not find that Respondent discriminated against Complainant. The evidence showed that the Complainant had successfully made the Respondents aware of his condition and the Respondent had accommodated him for six years. Further, the Respondents’ decision not to discipline the Complainant for his behaviour showed that they were aware of his disability. They determined that his behaviour was not wilful and asked him to seek medical assistance.
Second, the Board found no evidence proving that the Complainant addressed his bipolar hypomanic phased with his physician. His failure to provide a physician note proved his failure to mitigate his situation.
Third, the Board found that the Respondent had gone to great lengths to keep the Complainant as an employee. This was evidenced by the fact that the Respondent initially put him on sick leave, rather than disciplining him. When the Complainant refused to stay away from work, the Respondent asked the Complainant to provide a psychiatric assessment prior to returning to work.
Fourth, at the time, there was no information on the usefulness of the Respondent’s existing accommodation policies. Nonetheless, the Board did not think this case would have been avoided, even if the Respondent had appropriate policies in place to manage employees with mental disabilities.
The Board dismissed the complaint.