A recent court decision makes it clear that management must
maintain a healthy workplace culture. In this decision, a
supervisor was dismissed for cause because he was disrespectful to
women—even though he didn't make inappropriate
comments directly to them.
The Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench recently found just
cause for dismissal based on an employee's disrespectful
behaviour that created a hostile work environment. In Gillam v.
Waschuk Pipeline Construction Ltd., the employer, a pipeline
construction company, terminated an employee who had worked in a
supervisory role as an equipment transport co-ordinator from 1996
to 2008. The office at the work camp where the plaintiff employee
worked was staffed by three women, among others. The plaintiff used
foul language and inappropriate comments to refer to the three
women employees, but he did not use this language in front of
them—he used it in front of other employees, including
employees who reported to him as their supervisor.
The court held that the plaintiff's conduct created a
hostile working environment and his behaviour amounted to sexual
and/or personal harassment. The court noted that even if
"rough" language was to an extent acceptable on a
pipeline, the plaintiff's language went beyond this.
Broadened application of harassment
This case extends the normal application of harassment in the
workplace to include not only those cases of direct harassment, but
also those situations where the culture of the workplace has
developed in such a way that it is in and of itself harassing.
To prevent human rights complaints and also ensure that
employees are clear on appropriate behaviour at work, employers
must ensure that the definition of harassment in their policies and
procedures manuals includes inappropriate remarks and comments, and
take active steps to eradicate workplace "banter" and
employee behaviour that may create a hostile work environment and
thus constitute indirect harassment.
This case was a claim for wrongful dismissal by the offending
employee, but a complaint could have been made against the employer
by the workers who were subjected to the hostile
culture—for a human rights violation, a claim of
constructive dismissal—or the culture issue could be
raised by an employee to explain allegations made against him or
her: "This was the workplace culture tolerated or encouraged
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Unfortunately, reasonable accommodation for employees in the workplace continues to be the source of significant litigation and even today we continue to see outrageous examples of employers behaving badly.
We are now beginning to see reported cases involving charges and subsequent fines laid against employers for failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to protect a worker from workplace violence.
On October 13, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada denied leave to appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal decision which ordered an employer to pay a former employee 37 months of salary and benefits following termination.
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