Wrongful Dismissal: Employee Fired After Revealing Cancer Diagnosis

A worker informs her employer that she’s been diagnosed with cancer and plans to work up to the day before her surgery. She assumes she’ll have a job to return to, but the employer says that she resigned. Was she wrongfully terminated?

51-year old leasing agent, Elsa Torrejon had worked with Weston Property Management Corp. of Toronto for six months before discovering a lump in her breast in the fall of 2008. After undergoing testing and mentioning the situation to her employer, the cancer was confirmed a few months later in February 2009. It was at this point that Torrejon informed her employers of her plan to work up to the day before her scheduled surgery. She assumed that her job was secure.

Interestingly, after seeking a second medical opinion, Torrejon concluded that she could continue working after all. However, this change of plans was not agreeable to the company. To her surprise, Torrejon’s supervisor told her she had resigned and that the departure date was firm. Torrejon insists that she had not quit.

What Was the Result?

The Human Rights Tribunal found Weston Property guilty of discrimination and wrongful termination. Torrejon was awarded $20,000 for damages and lost wages, and her employer was given a deadline of 30 days to complete training on Ontario’s Human Rights Code. It’s worth noting that the Tribunal cited zero effort from Weston Property to determine the viability of an absence leave to accommodate Torrejon’s illness.

In retrospect, Torrejon concludes that Weston Property’s handling of the situation and its lack of support aggravated her illness.

Points to Note

This case highlights how employers need to tread carefully when dealing with employee leaves and terminations. Hasty actions based on lack of knowledge and in violation of provincial and federal employment law legislation, including Human Rights protections, and the common law, could prove costly to the company.

Employees should note that they need not take discriminatory treatment and terminations passively. Knowledge of their rights under employment law could safeguard their jobs and their well-being.

Minken Employment Lawyers is your source for expert advice and advocacy on today’s employment law issues.

For more details, see: The Toronto Star (Woman awarded $20,000 for being fired after revealing breast cancer, by Noor Javed, July 13 2010).

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