Air Canada lays off blind longtime employee, saying it can't accommodate him amid pandemic

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By Christine Long CTV News Montreal Entertainment Reporter

and Selena Ross CTV News Montreal Digital Reporter

 

In 2016, Sean Fitzgibbon starred in an Air Canada promotional video about inclusion.

It showed him on the job, working as a stock-keeper. He was also given the company’s award of excellence for his service.

So it came as a shock when he got a letter saying the airline could no longer accommodate his medical condition.

Fitzgibbon has been legally blind for seven years, and last month Air Canada told him that now that it’s downsizing its workforce amid the pandemic, the company can no longer provide him with a suitable job that he can safely perform.

“It’s pretty clear that he was laid off because he is blind,” says Serge Gelinas, the president of the union representing Air Canada employees.

“That’s why he lost his job.”

Even stranger, in a way, was a message included in the letter: “Should your medical condition improve... please advise the Company immediately, as this information may impact your ability to return to work,” it said.

The union says the company didn’t try hard enough to find him another position.

“Air Canada has a big call centre and he can answer the phones, there is no problem,” said Gelinas.

Fitzgibbon said he’s not ready to retire after 32 years at Air Canada, a company he always felt he cared about.

“This isn’t the way I expected my career to end,” he said. 

He says he wants the company to focus on what he can do, not what he can’t do.

“I would think that I would have the choice to retire, not sort of be forced to retire if that's my only option.”

It’s also unclear how a callback of workers would affect him. 

Air Canada said in March it was temporarily laying off 16,500 workers, whom it then hired back under a government cost-sharing scheme. But in May, it laid off 20 thousand people saying it was trying to reduce the total number by asking staff to agree to two-year leaves whenever possible.

“By the time there is a call back I'm [going to be] be one of the last called back,” said Fitzgibbon.

The union is grieving his layoff.

 

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