Employer implemented accommodation measures and investigated harassment complaint, but worker became impatient and quit
Employers must be attentive when an employee reveals a disability and requests accommodation, especially if the employee already has performance issues that could be related to the disability. But accommodation doesn’t have to be perfect, just reasonable.
A British Columbia worker has lost her claim of discrimination based on her disability after she quit when her employer’s accommodation efforts didn’t satisfy her.
Sarah Raudales was hired by the B.C. Interior Health Authority in June 2016 to fill in for a psychiatric nurse on maternity leave at Swan Valley Lodge, a residential care facility in Creston, B.C. Because it was a part-time role, Raudales had another job as well.
In late 2013, Raudales had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, she didn’t think it would affect her work as a nurse and as a result she didn’t mention it to Interior Health when she was hired.
It didn’t take long before Interior Health became aware of complaints about Raudales by her colleagues at Swan Valley. Her supervisors also became concerned that she was making errors documenting patient medications on the medication administration record (MAR) — a record required by Interior Health under its policies.
Employee revealed disability at performance review
In mid-July 2016, Raudales’ supervisor met with her and showed her a document listing alleged errors she had made on MARs — more than 100 in the previous month. Raudales — who was still on probation — was surprised because the errors hadn’t been brought to her attention before that point. She acknowledged making mistakes recording information on the MARs, but said such errors were common and didn’t believe they were usually treated as deserving of discipline. Her supervisor said that on the contrary, such errors were serious and could cause a risk to the health of vulnerable patients.
Raudales then told her supervisor she had been diagnosed with ADHD and that was the reason for her errors filling out MARs. She also said she hadn’t previously disclosed her disability because she hadn’t thought it would affect her work.
The conversation turned to how Interior Health could accommodate Raudales’ disability. Raudales said she had been able to work with her condition at other jobs by using colour coding on MARs and suggested Interior Health could implement that or have her fill out MARs electronically. Interior Health didn’t have the capability of colour coding, but said she was welcome to use highlighters to implement her own colour coding.
After the meeting, the supervisor told Raudales not to tell her co-workers about her ADHD because it might cause them to think her incompetent. Later that day, Raudales emailed her supervisor to point out the supervisor herself had missed some signatures on MARs over the past few days. The supervisor replied that it was “not a big deal.”
Over the next two days, Raudales failed to sign MARs for 26 patient medications. Soon after, Swan Valley’s residential services manager discussed possible accommodation with the HR department, including the possibility of colour coding the MARs. In the meantime, Raudales was to use a ruler to make sure she didn’t miss any entries.
According to Raudales, after the meeting she felt she was being watched by her colleagues, the manager, and her supervisor for mistakes. She also claimed she was bullied and harassed when she made mistakes about medications but she couldn’t reveal her ADHD diagnosis because of her supervisor’s order. She asked again about colour coding the MARs, but nothing further developed.
In August, Interior Health management met again with Raudales to discuss concerns with her nursing practices and what support she needed. The manager told her she wold be moved to day shifts only and be provided with daily check-ins along with the support of another registered nurse while the disability management department worked on strategies. Raudales mentioned she was being bullied and harassed by colleagues, but didn’t link it to her ADHD. According to Raudales, the manager told her that colleagues were providing her with “feedback” but she should bring any concerns to him or HR in writing for investigation. However, Raudales didn’t contact anyone about her bullying and harassment allegations.
Interior Health decided to extend Raudales’ probation and review her progress on a weekly basis to “assess your readiness to work independently prior to returning your master scheduled rotation.”
Accommodation measures implemented
Raudales contacted the disability management department in late August and provided medical information from her family doctor confirming her ADHD diagnosis and the need for “management strategies to address organizational changes associated with her disability and to help her stay focused on tasks,” including more time to train on tasks requiring attention. The department confirmed with the residential services manager that certain measures already being taken — such as carrying a book to document medications, keeping medication carts in the medication room, and using a ruler when filling out MARs — should be sufficient accommodation strategies, though she would benefit from seeing a counsellor through the employee assistance program.
Raudales complained to the manager about incidents of harassment and bullying, including a colleague who started combing through her notes and practice after she revealed her ADHD to the colleague. By late August 2016, she developed severe anxiety.
On Aug. 31, Raudales stayed home from work and filed a harassment complaint with WorkSafe BC. On Sept. 1, she contacted her supervisor to say she would not be at work because of a knee injury and later emailed the manager to say she was resigning effective the end of September. This was followed a week later by a doctor’s note stating Raudales would be off work for medical reasons until the effective date of her resignation.
In mid-September, the manager contacted Raudales for a written complaint about her bullying and harassment allegations, as Interior Health was investigating. Raudales said the reason she wasn’t at work was because of the emotional effects of bullying and harassment. She also said she couldn’t attend an investigation meeting because she was working elsewhere.
Interior Health’s investigation concluded Raudales had not been bullied or harassed. A WorkSafe BC officer visited Swan Valley to review the investigation’s findings and found it complied with B.C. legislation and WorkSafe BC policy.
In early October, after Raudales’ resignation, the manager wrote to Raudales to inform her of the investigation results and also said he would be formally reporting concerns about her nursing practices to the College of Psychiatric Nurses. Raudales later filed a human rights complaint of discrimination that caused her to quit her job — accusing Interior Health of disciplining her, extending her probation for reasons connected to her disability, condoning harassment and bullying related to her disability, and writing to the College of Psychiatric Nurses as a result of its perceptions of her disability — which Interior Health applied to have dismissed.
The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal found that while Raudales experienced an adverse impact when her probationary period was extended and Interior Health held the multiple meetings to discuss her performance, there was sufficient evidence to show Interior Health accommodated Raudales after she disclosed her disability and provided medical information to support a request for accommodation. It referred her to its disability department, collected information about her disability, and requested the medical information it needed to understand her disability and move forward with accommodation. However, Raudales resigned only two weeks after she provided the medical information.
In addition, the tribunal found that there was no indication Raudales objected to the accommodations Interior Health provided or suggested other options before she resigned. Instead, Raudales ended the accommodation process when she resigned, said the tribunal.
The tribunal also found Interior Health didn’t condone the bullying and harassment, as it asked her to submit a written complaint — which she only did after the second request — at which point Interior Health investigated. The employer also continued the investigation even after Raudales resigned, said the tribunal. Though it was “unfortunate” Raudales felt she had to quit due to the emotional toll the harassment took on her, Interior health made reasonable efforts to investigate her complaint to a conclusion, which had no connection to her disability, said the tribunal.
Finally, the tribunal found Raudales’ allegation that Interior Health’s report of professional practice concerns to the College of Psychiatric Nurses was related to her disability and caused an adverse impact related to her disability could not succeed as well. There were documented performance concerns with her work and Raudales didn’t deny them. These concerns were based on real evidence and did not go “beyond conjecture and speculation,” said the tribunal.
The tribunal dismissed Raudales’ complaint on the basis that it could not succeed in a hearing.
For more information see:
• Raudales v. Interior Health Authority (No. 3), 2019 BCHRT 73 (B.C. Human Rights Trib.).