Flin Flon health-care aide wrongly fired for alcohol use: rights ruling

The Manitoba Human Rights Commission has ruled a Manitoba health-care aide's alcoholism was a disability, and firing her for allegedly failing to abstain from alcohol was discrimination.

Linda Horrocks hopes to return to work as an aide with Northern Regional Health Authority

The Manitoba Human Rights Commission has found a Manitoba health care aide was discriminated against when she was fired for allegedly failing to abstain from alcohol. (iStock)

Linda Horrocks hopes to return to work for the Northern Regional Health Authority, the employer who fired her four years ago for allegedly failing to abstain from alcohol.

"It might be raw in the beginning, but I expect that it will all run smoothly." she wrote in a statement to CBC supplied by the Human Rights Commission's officer of communications, "The people who know me, won't judge. They will still be there for me."

The Commission ruled earlier on Tuesday the health authority discriminated against Horrocks when it failed to accommodate her addiction to alcohol and terminated her employment.

NRHA staff met with the personal-care-home employee and her union in early 2011 to discuss a pattern of absenteeism suspected to be related to alcoholism. Horrocks said the absences were unrelated to alcohol abuse, because at the time she was under a court order not to consume alcohol after being charged with impaired driving.

The health authority subsequently fired Horrocks in July 2011 after a co-worker reported she smelled of alcohol and others later reported she was intoxicated, breaking a signed commitment with the health authority to stop drinking. Only one of the allegations indicated she smelled of alcohol at work; others stated she drank outside work hours.

Horrocks filed a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission in 2012.

Chief adjudicator Sherri Walsh sided with the health-care aide and ordered the healthy authority to reinstate her and pay her three years' salary plus $10,000 for injury to personal dignity, feelings and self-respect.

"Financially this was very damaging," Horrocks wrote in her statement to CBC, "We had to use food banks and we were not able to afford things that we were accustomed to, like cable or the Internet.  I couldn't afford to drive my own car."

Manager was worried about client safety

Horrocks' manager testified she was concerned alcohol abuse would interfere with the health-care aide's ability to safely care for clients, hearing documents state. For example, the manager worried the aide might not be alert enough to transfer residents from bed to chair to bathtub. 

Walsh's decision states the manager's fears for residents were not adequate grounds for dismissal.

"It is important to recognize that it constitutes discrimination for an employer to rely on personal experiences and commonplace assumptions or stereotypes rather than objective assessments," the decisions says.

Safety is an "important consideration," the ruling states, but "proactive measures" could be taken to minimize risks, such as checking in with Horrocks or notifying co-workers to watch for signs of intoxication.

She also noted that no effort was made by the health authority to speak with Horrocks' addictions counsellor or another treating professional, to investigate how the employer could support her return to work.

"I find the (health authority) did not make reasonable efforts to accommodate the complainant's disability," Walsh wrote in the decision. "This case raised many interesting and important issues about an employer's duty to accommodate an employee who has an addiction-related disability."

NRHA, Horrocks react to rights ruling

The Northern Regional Health Authority is not pleased with the decision.

"The region is disappointed in the commission's decision, however we respect the office of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission," the health authority said in a statement emailed to the CBC. "We are reviewing the decision to assess its impact. We will take steps to ensure patient safety is not compromised, as that remains a top priority for us."​

Horrocks said Tuesday she is looking forward to returning to health care work in Flin Flon.

"I am willing and happy to return to work for the NRHA." Horrocks said in her statement, "I have no problems working for them. I think that everyone is professional and we can all work in a professional manner."


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