An Ontario judge has held that an employer which failed to train
employees on its workplace violence rules did not have just cause
to dismiss an employee who slapped a coworker in the face.
Two workers were engaged in "verbal jousting"
described by other co-workers as "trash-talk",
"off-colour language", "salty language" or
acting like "two kids in a courtyard". One worker, the
plaintiff in the lawsuit, struck the other worker on the face with
an open hand, apparently provoked by something that the other
worker said. The judge found that the plaintiff, who had almost 6
years of service, enjoyed a clean disciplinary record and did not
have a history of violence or anger management problems. The slap
caused brief facial redness.
The employer fired the plaintiff and claimed just cause for
dismissal without notice. The employee sued in the courts for
The employer attempted to rely on the rules in its Employee
Handbook prohibiting "threatening, intimidating, or coercing
fellow employees" and "fighting or attempting to injure
another employee". The judge stated, however, that the
employer did nothing to train its employees with respect to the
intent and purpose of the rules and the consequences of breaking
them "beyond distributing the Handbook, and revisions to it,
to its employees and leaving them to read it and interpret it for
themselves." According to the judge, the employer could have
sent a message to the plaintiff and other employees that workplace
violence was not acceptable, by imposing progressive discipline
– not dismissal – as referred to in the
While the result in this case may seem inconsistent with the
trend towards judges and arbitrators taking a harder line against
workplace violence, the decision does show the importance of
employers instructing employees on workplace violence rules
– particularly if employers wish to rely on those rules
to dismiss employees who violate them.
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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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