Straight Talk: Addiction & Accommodation at work.

addictDid you know that alcoholism and addiction are considered disabilities?

A seven year legal battle for two Ontario residents and a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada set a legal precedent on what constitutes a disability under Human Rights legislation. Employees who suffer from an illness or injury that restricts or limits their ability to perform their duties are considered to be “disabled” under employment law; addictions and alcoholism are considered disabilities.

Under the Yukon Human Rights Act, an employer must accommodate disabled employees – this is the “duty to accommodate”.  The right to equality for persons with disabilities is entrenched in Human Rights legislation across Canada.   If an employee suffers from an addiction they may have access to a workplace accommodation while they are recovering.

We say may because the duty to accommodate usually follows disclosure by the employee. The employee may believe they suffer from an addiction but unless this is disclosed, it’s tough for the employer to know what supports are appropriate.

An accommodation can be anything from  altered  hours of work, time off to attend counseling or treatment or even modified duties.  It may mean working in a different position or location. The intent is to reduce or eliminate the risk of further injury or illness, to meet operational needs and to allow the individual to continue working while recovery takes place.

If an employer suspects a medical condition may be affecting an employee’s performance, they have a duty to inquire. This means they may ask the employee if there are any medical restrictions or limitations, or if they have a medical condition they should be aware of.  This isn’t an invasion of your privacy just for the sake of asking; if you are asked, it likely means your employers have noticed you are struggling.

What can you do if you believe addiction is affecting your ability to carry out your duties?  Ask for help! Talk to your family or friends, consult with your family physician and tap into your employee assistance program.

If you believe you need a workplace accommodation, ask YEU for a union representative to help you talk to your supervisor.  Some employers offer financial support to attend treatment programs, follow up counseling or other rehabilitative programs.  All employers have a legal duty to accommodate an employee to the point of undue hardship.

If you’re in doubt about your responsibilities and your rights as a disabled employee or if you have any questions please contact YEU and your human resource branch. There is confidential support available and all levels can work together to help.  For your protection, it makes sense to make sure you have union support when you approach your employer; we will be with you every step of the way.

Straight Talk: Off Duty Online Harassment may cost your JOB!

cloud-2“OMG – did you see Sarah’s outfit today?  Looks like she got dressed in the dark again!”

“Office romance alert:  it looks like Mr. Shiny-Shoes is cheating on his wife with Ms. Short-Skirts!!”

“All women are cheaters!”

We’ve all heard of cyber-bullying and online harassment through social media.  Did you know that if you engage in harassing behaviour online, you can be disciplined at work?  The rules of your employment don’t end when you go home for the day.  With the rise of social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, what we say online can really affect our working lives.

It doesn’t matter if you’re posting from your home computer long after your work day ends;  if your online behaviour can be linked to your workplace,  your employer may have a legal obligation to make sure you are not harassing your co-workers.  The law says employers have a responsibility to ensure a safe and harassment-free workplace.  That includes ensuring protection from after-hours cyber-bullying.

Ask yourself the following questions to consider whether your online activities may be inviting discipline:

1. Is what you are saying online harassing? Is it critical, mean or overtly personal?
The first thing an employer would have to consider is whether what you said was actually a problem.

~Were your comments about a specific person or could they be reasonably interpreted to be about a specific person?
~Were your comments offensive or bullying in nature (the argument that you were making a joke won’t fly here)?
~Were they discriminatory (were they about a protected ground in the Yukon Human Rights Act)?
~Were your comments objectively inappropriate?

2. Were your comments made in a public forum?
We tend to think of some arenas as private: your kitchen, your car, your Facebook wall….?!

Although there are different levels of privacy on social media, Facebook & Twitter are NOT private.  Even if you post in a private message, your comments could be shared using screen capture or other tools.

If you have made offensive comments that you intended to be seen by a private audience (through a private message on Facebook,  or to a select few followers on Twitter), you could argue that your comments were not made in a public forum.  Proving that your comments were not public would help any argument you would make if your employer disciplines you for online comments. The reality is that once you put something out on the web you lose control of it.

3. Were your comments reasonably connected to work?
If your comments were about a specific person in your workplace, whether you named them or just made it clear who you were talking about, your employer (and co-workers and friends and community members) could reasonably conclude that your comments were connected to the workplace, and therefore have an obligation to act.

If you identify yourself on social media as working in that specific workplace, then your employer may also conclude that any comments you make are related to work and reflect poorly on the employer.  Therefore, they may act to discipline you.

If the answer to any of these questions is YES, your employer may have a legal obligation to discipline you.

It is a complicated issue and there is not enough room here to go into the complexities. In the end, the best thing to remember is DON’T BE MEAN ONLINE!   Not only does it hurt other people, but it could come back to hurt you at work too!

Christie Harper, YEU Union Advisor