Last week the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal accepted a complaint from former Babine Forest Products worker Clinton Sitar that had been filed on Nov. 16, 2016.
In January 2012, Sitar suffered permanent injuries – including post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – as a result of Babine’s explosion and fire, which killed two workers and injured 20 others.
Sitar is seeking justice for the alleged discrimination he experienced at work after the explosion, saying the victims of the explosion needed to be “properly taken care of” in the aftermath of such an event.
After the explosion, Sitar returned to modified hours of work in early 2014.
According to Babine Forest Products, a year later he “acted out” at work by verbally abusing two other employees and allegedly admitted to breaking a chair at work in anger. The next day he was suspended for a day from work for swearing at other employees.
Sitar says he then met with his psychologist who gave him coping strategies for dealing with PTSD stressors at work. He identified such stressors being related to his safety concerns about dust levels in the mill.
Babine Forest Products says Sitar then yelled at his supervisor on Oct. 9, 2015, called a co-worker a “retard” on Nov. 12, 2015 and repeatedly berated and verbally abused other workers on Nov. 17, 2015. Sitar was terminated for insubordination later that month, and filed a grievance of his termination.
Babine Forest Products considered re-employing Sitar if he provided reports from his treating mental health professionals and other physicians, setting out the dates of his visits over the previous year. Babine also sought an independent psychological assessment.
According to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, Sitar recognized Babine’s reinstatement criteria, but felt that the company did not have a right to access records from his attending physician and did not have a right to force him to attend a different psychological assessment.
Sitar’s complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal was accepted even though it was filed outside of the six-month time limit.
“Considering all of the circumstances, on balance I am persuaded that it is in the public interest to accept the late-filed complaint,” states the decision signed by Steven Adamson, registrar and member of the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. “While appreciating the complaint was late filed by over five months, I am persuaded that the severity of Mr. Sitar’s PTSD condition during the relevant timeframe explains his failure to meet the deadline.”
How Babine assisted employees after the explosion
Steve Zika, Chief Executive Officer of Hampton Afiiliates – company that owns Babine Forest Products, said that after the Babine explosion, Hampton Affiliates and WorkSafeBC took direct responsibility in providing for the care of workers dealing with PTSD or other mental health issues until they were released back to work.
Prior to the mill restarting, Zika said Babine continued employee’s EFAP coverage for counseling and assistance; retained the services of independent counselors to be available to employees; covered employee and family attendance to healing programs in B.C. and Alberta; and had a “dedicated member of staff” stay in contact with affected employees.
In addition, Zika said management and staff checked in with affected employees during the mill’s start-up.
“Employees were supported if they felt it necessary to leave their stations, or the Babine site, if they had any concerns or issues,” he said. “Under the recommendations of WorkSafeBC and individual counselors, the reintroduction to the mill site was handled in small steps – from driving into the parking lot, walking the site, entering the sawmill and then advancing to individual work stations.”
“Each returning employee was in five days of in-class training and exposure to the new site,” he continued. “This included a video about combustible dust and the importance of housekeeping as recommended by WorkSafe; employees were allowed to opt out of watching the video if they were concerned about viewing the risks of dust explosions, but none opted out.”
”We understand PTSD and other mental health issues vary by individual and can be very serious, so we continue to follow recommendations and conditions provided by counselors,” added Zika. “We are proud of our returning employees and have worked hard to make Babine a safe environment.”