A Quebec hospital had a legitimate reason for keeping an overweight nurse from working in the operating room, an arbitration tribunal has ruled.
The nurse, who weighed close to 300 pounds, had a problem with excessive sweating while working at the Centre hospitalier des Vallées de l’Outaouais in Hull, Que. The hospital had concerns during operations as the operating room was a sterile environment and the nurse’s sweating created a potential for more bacteria to enter the environment and increased the possibility of infection.
The hospital initially tried to accommodate the nurse’s condition by allowing her to change her clothing during surgery, but the sweating continued and her clothes were usually still damp with sweat. Eventually, it decided she wouldn’t work in the operating room any more. In December 2005, she was fired for “professional reasons.”
The nurses’ union filed a grievance, claiming the nurse’s obesity was a handicap and the hospital had a duty to accommodate by assigning her to another floor with different duties. However, in January 2008, a Quebec Ministry of Labour arbitration tribunal found the hospital’s exclusion of the nurse from the operating room was due to legitimate hygiene concerns and accepted the hospital’s evidence of increased bacteria from the sweating.
The union said health problems such as obesity are common among nurses due to stress and staff shortages. It was given 30 days to appeal the decision.
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