Tim Prothero looks for improved accommodation in the workplace for mental-health issues
An Orillia man is asking the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario to reconsider its decision and recognize his rights to proper accommodation as someone with mental-health issues.
Late last year, the tribunal acknowledged Tim Prothero had experienced workplace harassment and awarded him $27,500 in damages, partly paid by his immediate supervisor and the rest by his employer, the OPP.
However, Prothero claimed the adjudicator failed to acknowledge what he called his employer's lack of procedural duty to accommodate his generalized anxiety disorder and panic attacks. Prothero was a network and tech co-ordinator for the OPP's Investigations and Enforcement Bureau.
"My typical panic attack would lead to me thinking I was having a heart attack," Prothero said, adding his previous management team had accommodated this in 2004. "I actually, truly thought it was a physical condition. They were so severe, I'd end up having physical symptoms - I couldn't catch my breath, I was sweating and I was having pains."
In December 2010, when similar circumstances arose, his situation quickly declined. Prothero felt it was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people.
He loved his job with the OPP. And he was good at it - at least, that's what the Commissioner's Commendation he received told him.
Around Christmas about six years ago, Prothero was forced to take time off due to his anxiety and panic attacks. But instead of using the time off to recover, Prothero was told the doctor's note he had provided was not enough. As a result, Prothero was forced to interrupt his recovery to respond to his supervisor's requests for more information.
"They immediately started saying, 'Your doctor doesn't know what she's talking about,' and, 'We had a meeting with you and there's nothing wrong with you,'" he said. "And then there was an email saying if I don't come back to work, 'we'll cut your pay off and your benefits.'"
With the possibility of Prothero's family's only source of income disappearing, his panic attacks intensified.
But that wasn't all.
"I fell into a deeper depression," he said. "I was in a complete emotional breakdown. They had to take me to the hospital. I was admitted and assessed by the crisis nurse."
Prothero found himself having to prove to his management team he was suffering from the conditions he had already been diagnosed as having.
"You've got a person who is struggling just to go day by day, just trying to get better, and then you're threatened by losing your entire livelihood because they don't believe it," said Prothero. "You're in a constant state of panic because you're trying to tell somebody your situation and they're not helping."
Yet Prothero's requests for accommodation were denied, as his supervisor stated the job description required him to drive to the bureau's Toronto location to report.
Prothero said 90% of his job could be done remotely, with occasional travel required if a hardware issue arose, so accommodation could have been arranged as it had been in 2004.
As Prothero's doctor explained in her notes, he was prescribed medication - with possible side-effects, including drowsiness and lack of concentration - potentially impacting his ability to travel for work or otherwise.
"A person with a disability has every right to participate in the workplace, whether through accommodation or job modification or staff transfer or alternate work environment," he said.
When it seemed Prothero had hit a wall, he was forced to take matters to the tribunal, which eventually ruled in his favour on the harassment claim, but did not feel there was a need for accommodation.
"If somebody has a broken arm, you wouldn't punch them in the arm; you'd know not to," said Prothero. "Similarly, if you know somebody has a mental illness, you don't harass them, and that was confirmed by the tribunal."
OPP Sgt. Peter Leon said the organization is always reviewing and enhancing its processes when it comes to its employees and that the goal of the OPP is to maintain a healthy workforce and a healthy workplace.
"Every circumstance is unique in its own way," he said in an interview. "If there's an issue that's brought to the attention of a supervisor, it's the supervisor's duty to take it to the next level and best accommodate the needs of the individual."
Leon would not comment specifically about Prothero's case, saying the OPP respects the decision of the tribunal and considers the matter closed, but he said, "We obviously want to create a supportive work culture. Our people and employees are important to our day-to-day functions and we want to make sure they're able to carry out their jobs in an atmosphere which is free from discrimination and harassment."
As well, Leon said, the OPP does not discriminate in its employment policies.
"It's important for them to be provided with a comfortable, safe and positive working environment," he said.http://www.orilliapacket.com/2017/01/30 ... lth-issues