Ottawa

COVID-19 long-hauler files human rights complaint against former employer

After struggling for months with debilitating symptoms typical of COVID-19 "long-haulers," Rob Kingston was called into a meeting in October and told by his employer that his services were no longer required.

Kawartha Credit Union fired Rob Kingston after months of illness

Rob Kingston was fired from his job as a marketing manager at Kawartha Credit Union in Peterborough, Ont., last October. His employment insurance benefits run out in September. (Submitted by Rob Kingston)

After struggling for months with debilitating symptoms typical of COVID-19 "long-haulers," Rob Kingston was called into a meeting in October and told by his employer that his services were no longer required.

"I was devastated," said Kingston, 49, a former marketing manager at Kawartha Credit Union in Peterborough, Ont.

Now, in a case that's drawing the attention of other long-haulers, Kingston has complained to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, claiming discrimination on the basis of a disability.

He's demanding his job back, plus lost income and $50,000 in compensation "for mental distress and for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect."

A statement from Kingston's former employer did not comment specifically on the case, saying only that "Kawartha Credit Union values all of their employees and adheres to all applicable legislation and best practices."

Symptoms persisted

According to his complaint, Kingston first fell ill with COVID-19-like symptoms in March 2020, and by the following month he had a sustained body temperature above 38 C, requiring him to take a week and a half off work. After he returned, he began having long-haul COVID-19 symptoms including brain fog, debilitating fatigue, loss of smell, a racing heartbeat and tremors.

Kingston tested negative for COVID-19 in early April 2020. An antibody test in December also came back negative, however neither test indicates conclusively that he didn't contract the virus.

They have a legal obligation to support and accommodate employees like Rob who are going through a very difficult medical journey.- Gregory Ko, Rob Kingston's lawyer

Kingston said he reported his worsening condition to his supervisor, and in late August his doctor issued a note ordering him to take several more weeks off work.

On Oct. 1, 10 days after his second return, he was fired. According to his complaint, Kingston lost his job just months after receiving a glowing performance review that said he'd "exceeded expectations."

"Rob went from being a superstar in the workplace ... and then six months later [they] let him go," said Gregory Ko, Kingston's lawyer. "They have a legal obligation to support and accommodate employees like Rob who are going through a very difficult medical journey."

WATCH | Rob Kingston's situation for the last year:

COVID-19 long-hauler files human rights complaint after being fired

8 months ago
1:41
Rob Kingston of Peterborough, Ont., whose COVID-19 symptoms began last March, has filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario claiming he was let go from his job because of the lingering effects of his illness. 1:41

According to Kingston's claim, rather than offer disability benefits, his former employer required him to use up his vacation time to cover some of his leave. Along with the compensation, Kingston's complaint also asks that Kawartha Credit Union undergo human rights training.

"We want to send this message that employees in Ontario have the right to be free from discrimination, and they shouldn't be losing their jobs because of this medical condition," said Ko.

Case attracting attention

The case is attracting the attention of other long-haulers including Suzie Goulding, one of the founders of COVID Long-Haulers Support Group Canada. 

Goulding said she hopes Kingston's human rights complaint will shed more light on the double tragedy of people in their situation, who not only suffer through the illness, but also risk financial ruin as a result.

Suzie Goulding is a founder of COVID Long-Haulers Support Group Canada. (CBC)

"The people who have long-haul have been forgotten," said Goulding. "This needs to be a recognition that people are suffering, they're losing their jobs, and something really needs to be done."

Goulding's group is pushing for federal guidelines for diagnosis and treatment, as in the United Kingdom. She believes that formal recognition of the illness will help ensure fairer treatment of sufferers by their employers.

Goulding also believes there should be benefits set aside for long-haulers who lose their jobs and don't know when they'll be able to re-enter the workforce.

Kingston's employment insurance benefits run out in September.

"I try not to think about that," said Kingston, who shares custody of one daughter. "That's terrifying for me to think that I'm still going to be in that situation."

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