Non-profit Inclusion NWT is seeking to clear the air amid a storm of online outrage after one of its clients recently learned he would be laid off from his Tim Hortons job of more than five years — a move that’s sparked an outcry on social media, with some calling for a boycott of the uptown coffee shop.
Chris Strus, who lives with a disability, has worked at the Old Airport Road location since around 2014.
He was told by employers he would be let go on March 5, according to a viral Facebook post published by his sister Sherina Strus on Feb. 27.
“Chris was not part of the ‘new business plan’ and was let go,” stated Sherina.
“He has been saying to our family that his hours have been getting cut severely over the past while and the new management team is not nice to him at all.”
New owners took over the restaurant about a year-and-a-half-ago.
NNSL Media has made multiple attempts to reach the owners to confirm the existence of a “new business plan” and to learn how it affects Strus.
Following Sherina’s Facebook post, comments – and angry reactions – poured in.
“He’s been there for years and is always smiling and working hard! They lost my business!” wrote one frustrated online user.
“This is so not right. He was so good there. He was the bright spark there. He worked harder than anyone,” commented another.
“This makes me so mad!! How many years I saw him working hard there and always a smile on his face,” stated another Facebook user.
Others urged Chris to file a human rights complaint, while some suggested boycotting the Old Airport Road location all together.
Sherina lives in Ontario. She said she’s receiving information about Chris through her mother.
She’s trying to receive copies of her brother’s employment record, along with a letter indicating he’d been laid off.
“We want to find out if we can take legal action on this or not,” said Sherina, citing comments from Facebook users who said the layoff amounted to discrimination.
But Lynn Elkin, executive director at Inclusion NWT – a non-profit group that connects individuals who self-identify as having a disability with employment training and opportunities – says emotionally-charged online commentary has produced misinformation related to Chris’s situation.
“There’s a whole lot of inaccurate information out there,” Elkin told Yellowknifer.
Elkin said she couldn’t go into specifics about Chris’ personal file, but said it was her understanding that multiple Tim Hortons employees, not just Chris, may also be laid off.
“He’s not necessarily the only one who is impacted because they are making changes. We don’t have all the details, so we don’t know. But this is not a get-rid-of-one person (kind of situation)."
According to Elkin, Chris is not disappointed with his pending departure, and that he’s looking forward to new opportunities in the workforce.
“Everything was done in accordance with the NWT Employment Standards Act. Everything, so there’s nothing illegally inappropriate here,” she added.
“Do we feel there is a huge issue here? Not one that we have not addressed and dealt with. In this case, the individual is actually OK with what’s happening.”
Despite Elkin’s assertions Chris is not disappointed ahead of his layoff, his sister Sherina said Chris needs structure and stability - two things he found at his job at Tim Hortons.
“It’s really upsetting to hear from my mother that he’s upset with this change,” said Sherina.
“My major concern is that they didn’t take into consideration Chris’ disability and how much of a hard worker he is. He brightened everyone’s day.”
Sherina also worries that Chris will have to start from scratch.
“He’s gotta adapt to a new position, make himself feel comfortable again. It’s really, really upsetting for him to go through that because it’s so stressful,” she said.
Both temporary and permanent layoffs fall under the territory’s Employment Standards Act.
Human rights complaints can be filed if factors like one’s disability, nationality and sexual orientation are believed to have played a role in an employer's decision to terminate, layoff or replace an employee.
Inclusion NWT released a formal statement on Friday, in which they emphasized their continued strong partnership with Tim Hortons.
“In light of recent social media posts regarding Tim Hortons’ inclusive hiring record, Inclusion NWT wishes to emphasize that we are thankful that Tim Hortons in Yellowknife demonstrates an ongoing commitment to increasing workplace diversity.
"We hope more Yellowknife businesses will follow their lead this spring by providing employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities,” the statement read.
While Sherina seeks answers, she hopes the community can pull together to find some employment options for Chris — she's already received hiring tips from several online commentators.