Canada: When Can A Poisoned Workplace Result In Constructive Dismissal?

A recent decision from the Ontario Court of Appeal clarified when a poisoned work environment will constitute constructive dismissal from employment. The employee in this case claimed that he had been subjected to "discriminatory treatment in the workplace based on racism". The facts of the case are relatively complicated but the case provides an outline of the test for whether or not a workplace has been poisoned. 

The facts, in a nutshell, are as follows:

The plaintiff-employee, Yohann Johnson, claimed that another employee, Alex Markov, refused to participate in mandatory training, conducted by Johnson, because of Johnson's race. According to Markov, his reason for not attending training with Johnson was because of insensitive comments Johnson made about the murder of Markov's brother. The employer, General Motors of Canada Limited (GM), investigated the incident numerous times and was unable to find evidence that Markov's conduct was racially motivated. Johnson subsequently went on a leave of absence, which he claimed was a consequence of GM's investigations and his treatment by Markov.

Two years after commencing his leave of absence, Johnson was deemed fit to return to work. However, Johnson still claimed that he was "disabled" and could only work in an environment where he would not be in contact with Markov. GM offered Johnson two positions, both of which were in different buildings from where Markov worked (although they may have had some contact).  Johnson refused to accept either of these options, but did not provide any medical information to support this refusal. Accordingly, GM deemed Johnson to have resigned from his employment with GM.   Johnson brought a claim against GM, alleging that he had been constructively dismissed.

Trial Decision

At trial, the judge found in favour of Johnson and decided that Johnson had been constructively dismissed from his employment as a result of a poisoned work environment. The trial judge was of the view that GM did not take Johnson's complaint of discrimination seriously, and failed to sufficiently investigate his allegation. The trial judge awarded Johnson approximately $530,000 in damages. GM appealed, arguing that the trial judge's decision was unreasonable and was not supported by the evidence.

Court of Appeal Decision

The Court of Appeal commenced its analysis by stating:

It is well established that a trial judge's findings and inferences of fact attract great deference from a reviewing court.  They cannot be disturbed on appeal unless they are infected by palpable and overriding error or are otherwise clearly wrong, unreasonable, or unsupported by the evidence...

The Court of Appeal then proceeded to overturn the trial judge's decision. The Court Appeal was unable to find evidence sufficient to support the trial judge's finding of a poisoned work environment. In fact, in the Court's view, there was no evidence that Johnson was subjected to racist behaviour by Markov. The fact that Markov died before trial made it easier for the Court to make this decision, as there were no issues of credibility which would require greater deference to the trial judge.

Most of the Court of Appeal's decision focuses on the specific facts of the case and why the facts do not support the trial judge's finding that the work environment at GM was poisoned. However, throughout its decision, the Court provides useful guidance regarding what is required in order to successfully argue that constructive dismissal has occurred as a result of a poisoned work environment. Some of the Court's more salient points are summarized here:

  • A poisoned work environment will lead to a finding of constructive dismissal only if "serious wrongful behaviour is demonstrated" which renders continued employment impossible.
  • The plaintiff has the onus of proving a poisoned workplace.
  • The "serious wrongful behaviour" must be "persistent or repeated" (although in some cases, the Court acknowledged, a single sufficiently egregious incident can result in poisoned work environment).
  • The test for whether constructive dismissal has occurred is an objective one (i.e., the question is not whether the plaintiff thought that the work environment had been poisoned; the question is whether a reasonable person in the plaintiff's shoes would have come to that conclusion).
  • An employee's dissatisfaction with the conclusion of a "legitimate grievance process" is not on its own sufficient to base a claim for constructive dismissal.

With respect to Johnson's allegations of racism and a poisoned work environment, the Court viewed the series of incidents alleged by Johnson as a single incident, rather than "systemic or institutional racist behaviour". Given the length of the employee's tenure at GM (8 years), the incident did not, when viewed objectively, result in a poisoned work environment. The Court acknowledged that the investigations undertaken by GM were not perfect. However, such investigations were not sufficiently flawed so as to provide a basis for a constructive dismissal claim. Further the Court's view was that GM's offers to return Johnson were inconsistent with the argument that GM had constructively dismissed him from employment.

Our Views

Although the Court of Appeal's decision on the merits was very fact-specific, this case provides some insight into what constitutes a poisoned work environment. An employee attempting to allege the workplace has been poisoned bears the burden of showing that a reasonable person in the employee's position would have viewed the employment relationship as at an end due to the alleged conduct.  To prevent these types of claims, employers should ensure they have policies and procedures in place to investigate and respond to employee misconduct to ensure that it doesn't escalate into a poisoned workplace.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions