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Employer failed to consider mental health evidence – member reinstated – (Rahmani decision)

Adjudicator Marie-Claude Perrault was recently seized by the spectre of mental health and human rights law. Naim Rahmani, an aeronautics engineer, had been fired for slapping his supervisor; but according to the Adjudicator Perrault, Mr. Rahmani might not be wholly to blame.

Here’s some back-story. For those unfamiliar with the profession, an aircraft engineer like Mr. Rahmani is in charge of safety-checking airplane prototypes, to ensure that ‘take-off’ goes smoothly and ‘landing’ doesn’t happen any sooner than it should. This assessment is conducted in small teams, and Mr. Rahmani worked closely with a select group of engineers. For reasons unknown, one of these collegial relationships turned sour, culminating in what could be described as a bitter rivalry.

Time passed, and from 2009 on, Mr. Rahmani started taking prolonged medical leaves of absence. It was at the end of one such absence, in February 2012, that Mr. Rahmani returned to his desk to find an email notifying him that his rival had been promoted to team supervisor.

Only minutes after the promotion was circulated, the newly appointed supervisor darkened Mr. Rahmani’s doorway to question an overtime request, and then left. Ten minutes after that, witnesses testified hearing raised voices and a loud slap coming from the new supervisor’s office, and security guards confirm that the red mark on the supervisor’s disgruntled face did not fade for at least a half an hour.

Mr. Rahmani admits to having slapped his colleague-come-supervisor. As an investigation into the incident unfolded, Mr. Rahmani was ordered to work from home.

But that’s not really the whole story, and it is to this surrounding context that Adjudicator Perrault swivelled her judicial telescope. Six months after the altercation, it is revealed that Mr. Rahmani was on a type of medication that can provoke wild mood swings, especially in the face of acute stress. A psychiatrist’s report goes on to say that Mr. Rahmani’s new treatment regime is more stable, and would allow him to return to work with a low risk of a second violent episode. Sceptical, Transport Canada ultimately fires Mr. Rahmani under the auspices of ‘workplace violence’.

The Canada Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination against anyone for mental health reasons, and Adjudicator Perrault concluded that Mr. Rahmani’s mental health issues played a part in his termination. It seemed to her that the new supervisor provoked Mr. Rahmani, and although his violent reaction was unfortunate, Transport Canada ignored the fact that this employee was a man on volatile medication in the midst of a period of psychiatric instability (as evidenced by his frequent medical absences), and the unfortunate series of events on that fateful day in February were simply too much for him to handle, from a medical perspective.

As the Adjudicator wrote, the termination was too severe a punishment based on the circumstances; especially in light of the medical assurance that Mr. Rahmani would be able to reintegrate safely with his workplace.

Mr. Rahmani was ultimately reinstated and awarded damages under the Human Rights Act in the amount of $25,000. The moral of the story here is that emotional and mental health are the elephant in the room in some workspaces, and it is discriminatory for an employer to harshly discipline someone because of it – or without regard for its impact on the situation overall.

The employer has files an application for judicial review.

(Interested in the details? Read the whole story in French and in English)

Publish Date: 10-MAR-2016 03:20 PM