B.C. non-profit sued manager for not answering email while off sick: Human Rights Tribunal | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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B.C. non-profit sued manager for not answering email while off sick: Human Rights Tribunal

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK
January 03, 2021 - 6:00 PM

The chief financial officer at a B.C. not-for-profit organization will have her B.C. Human Rights Tribunal complaint move forward after being regularly called upon by her employer to deal with work issues while she was off sick.

According to a Dec. 23 B.C. Human Rights Tribunal decision, the chief financial officer was regularly contacted by the executive director as well as board members while she was on medical leave and had been told by her doctor not to work. The employer requested work-related information and threatened disciplinary action if she didn't provide it. The employer also filed a petition in the B.C. Supreme Court to compel her to produce certain information while she was off sick.

Following the organization's behaviour, the chief financial officer filed a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal complaint saying the organization had discriminated against her on the basis of her physical disability.

Both the name of the chief financial officer and the organization she worked for are redacted in the Tribunal's decision.

In the lengthy decision, the not-for-profit organization argued the chief financial officer's complaint should be dismissed, and while it wins on some points, it failed to get the complaint thrown out fully allowing the case to go to a hearing.

"The very question at issue appears to be whether the chief financial officer was refusing to comply with the (organization's) requests or was unable as a result of her disability," Tribunal member Emily Ohler says in the decision.

According to the decision, both parties filed hundreds of pages of materials to support their arguments.

The decision says the chief financial officer started working at the not-for-profit that "works with schools delivering various programs" in 2013.

According to the decision, upon being employed the chief financial officer was assured she would receive a "balanced workload" and would work reasonable hours and be supported by adequate staff.

It appears that didn't happen and the chief financial officer worked regular 15 hour days, along with evenings and weekends.

"She was not provided with adequate staff support nor was her workload reasonable," reads the decision. "(She) worked excessive hours through 2016 and 2017."

In June 2017, the chief financial officer's health started to deteriorate and she started experiencing extreme "head pain." She also suffered a shoulder injury and found it difficult to look at a computer screen for long periods of time. Sometime afterwards she was involved in a car crash.

Much of the decision is given to lengthy submissions about conversations the chief financial officer had with board members about her poor health.

On Jan. 20, 2018, the chief financial officer’s doctor told her to stop working immediately.

However, while she was ordered to stop working, the organization continued to ask her plenty of work-related questions largely focused on the organization's financial situation.

While off sick in March 2018 a recently hired executive director emailed the chief financial officer saying they were very “disappointed” in her “behaviour” and saying failure to provide certain information will be considered “insubordination” and lead to disciplinary action.

In her submissions, the chief financial officer argued all the information the executive director wanted could be found on the organization's computer or in a cabinet.

“In no way am I defying your request or being deliberately difficult. As my medical note confirms, my health is being negatively impacted,” reads an email sent by the chief financial officer to the not-for-profit.

On March 19, 2018, with full knowledge the chief financial officer was in the hospital, the not-for-profit filed a petition in the B.C. Supreme Court to compel her to produce certain information. She was served the court documents the day she got out of the hospital.

“It appears that (the chief financial officer) repeatedly told the respondents that she was not to be working while on leave,” the Tribunal member said in the decision.

“The communications are rife with the respondents seeking information, then thanking the CFO for what she provided and saying they would take it from there, only to seek more or the same information again. The CFO frequently explains the disability-related difficulties she is having providing what is being requested. She expressly asked that they accommodate her with an uninterrupted medical leave.”

With this, the Tribunal ruled the complaint can progress to a hearing dismissing the not-for-profit's application to have the case thrown out.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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