Learning about employee’s addiction through gossip

Balance between encouraging office gossip and getting information about employee's disability
By Tim Mitchell
|Canadian Employment Law Today|Last Updated: 07/29/2013

Question: Is there a duty to accommodate if an employer learns of an employee’s addiction through office gossip with no proof that it’s true? We don’t approve of gossip and feel acknowledging it would encourage more gossip in the workplace.

Answer: What is the employer's duty when notice of an employee's substance dependency comes to its attention through workplace gossip? This is a delicate issue. On the one hand, an employer does not want to be seen as promoting loose talk amongst employees of their colleagues' personal issues. On the other hand, an employer should not simply turn a blind eye to reliable information that an employee is suffering from a debilitating addiction that could affect work performance. An employer does so at its own risk.

Generally speaking, in order to trigger an employer's duty to accommodate, it is incumbent on an employee to first establish that she has a condition requiring accommodation. However, where there is reason to suspect a medical condition may be impacting an employee’s ability to work, the employer's failure to make inquiries into these suspicions may constitute discrimination. This duty to inquire was recently addressed by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal in Mackenzie v. Jace Holdings Ltd.