Supreme Court Confirms Termination of Disabled Employee due to Workplace Violence Not Discriminatory

In our Fall 2015 Newsletter, we reported that the Ontario Court of Appeal had upheld an employer’s decision to terminate an employee with a mental disability following an instance of workplace violence. The Supreme Court of Canada has recently dismissed the employee’s application for leave to appeal.

In Bellehumeur v. Windsor Factory Supply Ltd., the employer had been accommodating Mr. Bellehumeur for various disabilities he had reported over time, including alcoholism, and thyroid and cardiac issues. When the employee made violent threats to other employees as he was leaving the workplace after having been disciplined, the employer terminated him for cause, on the basis that the threats constituted workplace violence. Following his termination, the employee alleged that his conduct was linked to a previously undisclosed mental disability.

Both the trial court and the Court of Appeal upheld the termination for cause. The trial judge found that Windsor Factory Supply was not aware of the employee’s mental disability at the time of his termination and, accordingly, the disability played no part in the employer’s decision to terminate. Since the termination was not arbitrary or based on preconceived ideas about the employee’s disability, it was not discriminatory under Ontario’s Human Rights Code. As the Court of Appeal stated:

The respondent being unaware of the appellant’s mental disability did not engage in discriminatory conduct under the Ontario Human Rights Code when it fired the appellant. They fired him as they would any employee who engaged in such workplace misconduct.

As this decision demonstrates, the existence of a disability is not always a factor in workplace misconduct, and it does not necessarily absolve employees for their actions. Since this decision has now been upheld by Canada’s highest court, it sets a strong precedent in support of termination for cause when the employer has not been made aware of (and ought not to have otherwise been aware) of a disability-related reason for a serious incident of  workplace misconduct.