The human right for McDonald's employees not to wash their hands
Don't eat at McDonald's on South West Marine Drive in Vancouver.
Listen. I love McDonald's, both for their food and for what they stand for philosophically. I thought that Super Size Me was a piece of anti-capitalist, anti-beef propaganda.
But when you're in Vancouver, skip the McDonald's on Marine Drive.
That's because the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal has ruled that one of the employees there has a human right not to wash her hands when working in their kitchen.
Beena Datt claimed that she developed a "skin condition" that meant she couldn't wash her hands in compliance with McDonald's hygiene policy. That's the same hygiene policy that makes McDonald's like an embassy to Canadians travelling overseas -- when you're in a Third World country, and tired of eating in hygiene-challenged local restaurants, you can count on a western standard of cleanliness and quality at McDonald's.
In B.C., McDonald's hygiene policy isn't just a matter of corporate pride. It's a matter of the law -- both the Health Act and the Food Premises Regulations. And then there's B.C.'s Food Protection Guidelines issued by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. McDonald's subscribes to all of them. Hell, they probably helped write them.
McDonald's is fanatical about hand-washing, to their credit. They have hand-washing rules. Not just the obvious "wash your hands after the bathroom" rules. But other rules, like wash your hands after shaking someone's hand. Wash your hands after retrieving food from the freezer. Wash your hands after touching a door handle. They even have a chime that goes off every hour. It's a "we're all going to wash our hands now" chime. Seriously -- see paragraph 23 of the ruling.
Datt wouldn't wash her hands. She just wouldn't -- she said she couldn't. So her employment was terminated. The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal ordered that McDonald's pay her not only $23,000 for "lost income", but an additional $25,000 for her "dignity and self-respect". You see, in B.C. a food preparation worker's self-respect trumps a company's commitment to cleanliness. They violated her "human rights".
The $50,000+ penalty -- plus several years of legal fees and medical and rehab experts -- isn't the worst of it. Inventing a "human right" for a worker to go to the bathroom and then to handle meat without washing her hands in between, as an excuse for that $50,000 shakedown isn't the worst of it either.
The worst of it is that the BCHRT has ordered that McDonald's, in paragraph 298 of the decision, to "cease the discriminatory conduct or any similar conduct and refrain from committing the same or similar contravention."
Beena Datt and her filthy hands are gone. But the restaurant has been ordered not to enforce its hand washing policy in any future cases like Datt's.
I wonder what will happen if, God forbid, someone were to contract a disease from that McDonald's because of this insane order. Could such a victim sue McDonald's for failing to live up to its legal public health requirements, even though McDonald's wanted to do so? Or could the BCHRT itself be sued? Would your answer be different if it was just one customer who got an upset stomach -- or a dozen people dying from e. coli, Walkerton style?
And, dear reader, if you think that this decision is some rogue ruling, you just don't know human rights commissions. This decision has plenty of precedents -- such as the Alberta ruling that found a human right to work in a restaurant, while infected with Hepatitis. There, Ruby Repas only got $5,000 for her "human right" to be a health hazard. (That case, incidentally, was argued by the Alberta HRC's resident Muslim supremacist, Arman Chak).
In 2004, Repas won $5,000. Now Datt won $50,000 plus interest. What will the penalty be next time? If you were a restaurateur, what would you do: fire a hazardous employee -- or risk a potential $150,000 price tag?
And if you were a customer of McDonald's in Vancouver, or Albert's Restaurant in Red Deer, or any other citizen of Canada in whose name these absurd rulings are being ordered, how much worse must these commissions get before you agree with me that they are just not normal?
ADDENDUM: Some commenters suggest that I am downplaying Datt's problem. I'm not. If she really did have a skin condition that stopped her from washing her hands, there are other remedies out there for her, from workers compensation to long term disability insurance, to switching jobs within McDonald's, or going elsewhere. All of those remedies predate the innovation of human rights commissions, and still coincide with them today. That's an added absurdity and unfairness with HRCs: my reading of the past five years of Alberta's HRC cases shows that they have essentially become an additional top-up to workers compensation claims. In this case, it's a $50,000 top-up. Not bad, for a McDonald's worker.
But HRCs don't have the expertise of workers compensation staff, nor are they bound by the same rules and precedents. And, it goes without saying, that in this case, they lack a basic understand of hygiene and food-borne illnesses. I have sympathy for Datt, as much as I would for anyone else who appears to have a long term disability, if that's really the case here (there was no testimony from doctors). For this to be twisted into a "human rights case", and for McDonald's to be ordered to accommodate her to the point of "undue hardship", and for a permanent order to be lodged against them reducing their hand-washing regimen, is abominable.