Akval Herr continues to struggle with the pain caused by a workplace injury sustained in Kelowna, B.C., more than two years ago.
The sheet metal worker said he was assisting a plumber with carrying a bathtub into a home under construction when he suffered a permanent back injury on Oct. 27, 2017.
“My back just popped and I was on the ground,” he said.
The 45-year-old father of two is now forced to walk with a cane.
“I can’t go back to tools,” he said. “I can barely walk stairs.”
His WorkSafe BC case manager referred his file to the Vocational Rehabilitation Services team, which provides job search support services to injured workers in B.C.
But Herr said he felt like he was being forced into re-entering the HVAC industry as an adjuster, a job he said he is physically incapable of because of the injury.
Mounting frustration prompted him to secretly record a conversation with the WorkSafeBC employee in April 2019.
“I’ve never recorded a conversation in my life, nor have I ever been prompted to, but that day, something made me record that conversation,” he said.
In the recording, which was shared with Global News, the employee encourages Herr not to wear a baseball cap during an upcoming job interview, as it’s more professional.
But it was the woman’s next comments that angered him, he said.
“Because it darkens your face too, it sort of — everything’s, like, darker,” she reportedly said. “As soon as you took it off, you look more light.”
Herr said he felt the remark had racial undertones.
“That’s the way it came across to me. ‘It makes you look lighter’ — what am I supposed to think about that?” he said.
“I can’t change my skin colour. How am I supposed to look lighter? Taking off my hat isn’t going to make my skin lighter; nothing is going to do that.”
Herr said he filed a complaint with the woman’s supervisor but his concerns fell on deaf ears, so he decided to take his story public.
WorkSafeBC said it can’t comment on specific cases due to privacy and wouldn’t say if the employee in question has faced disciplinary action.
“As an organization, WorkSafeBC is committed to providing a respectful workplace culture,” media relations director Craig Fitzsimmons said in a statement issued to Global News.
“We embrace diversity and value the differences that exist in our province, our customers, and our team.”
Fitzsimmons added that all WorkSafeBC employees are obligated to comply with a code of business ethics and behaviour, requiring respectful, caring, fair, knowledgeable, understandable, and responsive behavior when working with clients.
Meanwhile, Herr said he’s struggling to support his family after his wage loss compensation and medical benefits were cut off in September.
“There was no Christmas this year,” he said. “We have the tree up and stuff, but there was nothing being bought.”
Herr said he is still on the job hunt while fighting for better treatment of injured workers.