Firing of Quebec nurse for lying about medical history upheld

Job applicant falsely answered pre-employment questions about psychiatric history; information was relevant to nursing duties so it was reasonable for employer to ask them
||Last Updated: 12/20/2012

A Quebec employer had the right to fire an employee who lied about his psychiatric medical history that had relevance to the employee’s job duties, the Quebec Court of Appeal has ruled.

The regional hospital centre in Trois-Rivières, Que., asked a job applicant in February 2005 to complete a medical questionnaire as part of his application. The applicant stated on the questionnaire that he had no history of psychiatric problems, and he was hired a month later to be a nurse.

In October 2006, the employee went on medical leave and the hospital centre found out he did in fact have a history of psychiatric problems, including alcoholism, addiction to gambling, depression, a personality disorder and suicidal thoughts. Had the hospital centre been aware of these issues, it wouldn’t have hired the employee because they affected the ability to perform the duties of a nurse, which in turn negatively affected the safety of patients and the quality of their care. The employee was terminated because of these concerns and the fact he lied about them on his job application.

The union filed a grievance, claiming the hospital centre dismissed the employee based on a protected ground under human rights legislation — disability — and it shouldn’t have been allowed to ask about it on the questionnaire. It also argued an employee can’t be found to have misrepresented himself if the questions were related to a ground of discrimination.

An arbitrator dismissed the grievance and, following an appeal, the Superior Court of Quebec upheld the arbitrator’s decision. The union proceeded to appeal to the province’s Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal acknowledged that, generally, Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms prohibited an employer from requiring a job applicant to give information about a protected ground of discrimination. However, the charter permitted it if the employer could prove the information was a requirement of the job in question.

The appeal court found the information relating to the employee’s psychiatric history was related to the job duties of a nursing position and a clean bill of health was a legitimate job requirement. Therefore, it was reasonably necessary for the hospital centre to ask about it. Additionally, there was no duty to accommodate triggered because the employee hid the truth about his psychiatric problems from the employer. Had the employee told the truth and made the hospital centre aware of his problems, then the centre would be required to investigate accommodation options, said the court. The appeal was dismissed.

For more information see:

Syndicat des infirmières, inhalothérapeutes, infirmières auxiliaires du Coeur du Québec v. Centre hospitalier regional de Trois-Rivières, 2012 QCCA 1867 (Que. S.C.)(Fr.).

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