Tradesman sick of air quality and accommodation process

Worker refused to work in shop due to ventilation concerns but also refused to get a doctor's note

A British Columbia company was entitled to terminate a worker’s employment after he refused to comply with its accommodation requirements, the B.C. Labour Relations Board has ruled.

William Connor was a skilled tradesman who worked in the machine shop for Vancouver Shipyards. After twenty years on the job, he began to experience allergy-like symptoms in the early 1990s. An inspection by the B.C. Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) led to a change in ventilation at the workplace.

Connor continued to experience health problems and a 1997 medical examination led to a diagnosis of hay fever and a condition related to “inhaled organic chemicals from work and at home.” The need for proper ventilation was reiterated and personal respiratory protection was recommended. A WCB inspection in 2000 revealed the chemical exposure was within accepted limits, but Connor’s condition was aggravated by long-term exposure to contaminants. However, it determined it was not to the extent to cause a permanent disability.

Connor continued to bring his concerns about ventilation in the workplace to the company’s attention, particularly after a 2006 medical evaluation showed his lung capacity had decreased and he began received impairment payments from the WCB.

On Jan. 5, 2007, Connor had a chemical reaction attack at work. He asked a manager if he could work somewhere other than the machine shop but was told he needed to get a doctor’s note and undergo a functional capacity evaluation to determine what to do. Connor said more information wasn’t the issue and he refused to work in the shop because it made him sick.

Connor didn’t return to work, didn’t supply a doctor’s note or undergo the evaluation. On March 22, the company decided Connor had abandoned his position. The union disagreed, saying the shipyard had terminated him.

The arbitrator found Connor had refused to perform his job duties while failing to provide medical evidence that he couldn’t do them and didn’t co-operate with the company in coming up with a solution. Though Connor was said he was willing to return to work, it would only be on his terms, said the arbitrator, and this irreparably harmed the employment relationship. The arbitrator found termination was not excessive.

On appeal, the board agreed with the arbitrator, finding Connor refused to work and didn’t make an effort to reach an accommodation solution.

“The employer was willing to embark on a process to attempt to accommodate Connor’s health concerns, but Connor stubbornly refused to take the reasonable steps required by the employer to facilitate such a process,” said the board. See Connor v. Vancouver Shipyards Co., 2010 CarswellBC 1711.

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