B.C. had no duty to accommodate firefighter with Crohn’s disease

British Columbia’s Ministry of Forests has no duty to accommodate a firefighter who suffers from Crohn’s disease, the B.C. Arbitration Board has ruled

The worker was an auxiliary employee doing forest fire protection work. He started working for the province in 1993 and was recalled each year for work during the fire season until 2004, when he was not recalled as a result of concerns relating to his health. The worker had run into health problems in 2003 in Ontario, where he had been sent to help fight a forest fire in extreme conditions.

The province made attempts to accommodate the worker’s disability with an alternate position. A dispatcher job was offered to him, but a job requirement was being able to type 40 words per minute. He was only able to achieve 15 to 23 words per minute. The worker was also not very interested in that position as it was a lesser rate of pay and would require him to move.

The arbitrator said accommodating the worker in a firefighting role would cause the employer undue hardship. It simply wasn’t possible for the employer to reduce its safety standards by providing the worker duties which would allow him to sidestep attendance at the fire line for firefighting duties.

“I am not unmindful of the contribution the (worker) has made to the employer in past years, and I recognize that his disability is a source of distress, made more so by the loss of employment that he enjoyed and was good at,” the arbitrator said in dismissing his grievance. “However, I am satisfied that the employer has demonstrated that an accommodation cannot be made on an individual basis … given that the safety of the employees and the public must be of paramount consideration.”

For more information see:

British Columbia Public Service Agency v. B.C.G.E.U., 2006 CarswellBC 2093 (B.C. Arb. Bd.).

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