PSAC wins accommodation for a worker with environmental sensitivity

PSAC won on behalf of a member who requested accommodation due to environmental hypersensitivity. The member worked for the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development. Her doctor recommended that she work from home, in order to reduce her exposure to the environmental factors that were making her sick.

PSAC filed a grievance on her behalf against the employer for making it difficult to obtain the accommodation to which she was entitled. The employer did not provide the member with the equipment that she needed to work from home in a timely manner. The adjudicator found that the employer failed in its duty to accommodate by trying to change the member's work arrangement without consulting her and by failing to provide the required work tools in a timely fashion.

The adjudicator awarded the member $8,000 in compensation for pain and suffering and $10,000 in special compensation under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Significant points for PSAC members:

  • Employers must seriously examine how they can accommodate a given employee. To that end, the employer must first obtain all relevant information about the employee's disability. It must then work with the employee to see how he or she can be accommodated.
  • Employers must make sustained and prolonged efforts to accommodate employees.
  • Damages can be awarded for human rights violations. When quantifying damages, the nature, circumstances and severity of the discrimination will be considered.
  • Special damages can also be awarded for an employer's reckless behaviour toward employees when human rights have been violated.

Of interest was the following statement made by the adjudicator about the employer's representatives from the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development:

The employer's representatives were all aware of the telework policy. They also knew the employer's accommodation duties. They all worked for the federal department that assumes the government's responsibility for fostering employment equity in Canadian society. The employer's representatives have no excuse because they knew what they should have done.

Case reference:  Cyr v. Treasury Board (Department of Human Resources and Skills Development) 2011 PSLRB 35 (Decision rendered March 22, 2011)


October 18, 2011