Discipline but not firing for employee with depression

Depression and personal issues contributed to employee's absences but intentional cover-up was culpable behaviour: Board

A Saskatchewan woman who lied to her employer about her whereabouts during working hours deserved serious discipline, but the employer should have considered the effects of her troubled personal life and depression before firing her, the Saskatchewan Arbitration Board has ruled.

Delphine Alexson, 39, was a social worker in the field for the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region (RQHR) visiting troubled youth in their homes. Alexson was given a written reprimand on Feb. 22, 2005, for problems with her written work and attendance issues. Another letter of reprimand followed on Nov. 24, 2005, after Alexson went to a demonstration during working hours against the Regina police, which breached RQHR’s conflict of interest policy since the police were a community partner. Alexson was also experiencing personal problems and suffered from depression.

Alexson was disciplined three more times between March and July 2006, including an eight-day suspension. She was warned if she didn’t meet expectations she would be further disciplined up to and including termination.

Alexson found another job in February 2007 filling in for a social worker going on maternity leave. The position was still with RQHR but in its home care group, looking after people who required care in their own homes. When she was hired, she was told she was required to call if she was going to be late or off sick.

On April 18, 2007, Alexson went to court because her partner was facing a drunk driving charge. She was there briefly in the morning and again in the afternoon and cancelled a meeting with her manager. She told the manager she had a meeting with a client rather than revealing the real reason. She also listed meetings with three clients on her billing sheet. The next day, the manager called the clients and discovered Alexson hadn’t seen them.

In May 2007, RQHR provided a performance appraisal at the end of her home care stint, which said she was not suitable for home care because she required supervision. RQHR later obtained an information sheet from Alexson’s doctor saying she should avoid “highly stressful situations.”

On Sept. 25, 2007, RQHR terminated Alexson for breaching its trust by lying about her whereabouts and failure to provide patient care. It also said she hadn’t improved after being warned and disciplined previously. It said it had no confidence in her ability to do the job.

The board found Alexson’s performance issues, such as her attendance and quality of work, were linked to her depression, which was a disability that required accommodation.

However, the board also found Alexson’s misrepresentations of where she was and her lack of advance notice of absences were not linked to her depression. Though her condition affected her quality of work, there was nothing in the medical certificates indicating her judgment and cognitive abilities were affected. Therefore, her cover-up attempts warranted serious discipline.

The board set aside Alexson’s firing because of the non-culpable conduct caused by her depression. Because she was taking steps to resolve her personal problems, the board felt she had a good chance at rehabilitation. It ruled a suspension of 15 months without pay was sufficient for her lack of honesty, with the understanding further misconduct could lead to termination. See H.S.A.S. v. Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region, 2009 CarswellSask 716 (Sask. Arb. Bd.).

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