Early this year, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal chartered
into new territory when it awarded an employee $150,000 in damages
for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect that were caused
by the employer's egregious violation of the employee's
The case, O.P.T. v. Presteve Foods Ltd., 2015 HRTO 675, involved
two sisters, O.P.T. and M.P.T., who came from Mexico as temporary
foreign workers to work for the employer. The sisters alleged that
the owner and principal operator of the employer continually and
repeatedly sexually assaulted them. The allegations of sexual
assault included: slapping their buttocks; touching their breasts
over their clothing; sexually propositioning the sisters; forcibly
hugging and kissing O.P.T.; forcing O.P.T. to perform fellatio on
multiple occasions; and forcing O.P.T to have sex with him on
multiple occasions. All of the above were done on the threat of
dismissal. The sisters were particularly vulnerable to such a
threat because their work permits were restricted to their
employment with the employer. The employer provided housing for its
temporary foreign workers. As a result, the immediate consequences
of a dismissal were that the sisters would have no place to live
and would be precluded from working in Canada.
No one from the employer testified at the hearing. The Tribunal
accepted the sisters' allegations and concluded that such
conduct constituted serious violations of the Ontario Human Rights
O.P.T was awarded $150,000 in general damages for injury to
dignity, feelings and self-respect. Her sister, M.P.T. was awarded
$50,000 in general damages for injury to dignity, feelings and
self-respect. The Tribunal explained that, although previous damage
awards had not exceeded $50,000, the severity of the conduct in
question warranted an unprecedented amount of damages. The sisters,
as temporary foreign workers, were vulnerable and totally reliant
on their employer.
The Tribunal further ordered that the employer was required to
provide human rights information and training to any temporary
foreign worker that was hired for the next three (3) years. The
information and training had to be provided in the native tongue of
the temporary foreign workers.
What This Means for Employers
The decision demonstrates that human rights tribunals are
prepared to award significant damages for egregious violations of
human rights which are perpetrated on particularly vulnerable
As demonstrated by this case, an employer can be held liable for
serious misconduct, such as sexual harassment, committed by its
officers, official and employees if the impugned conduct occurs in
the course of employment. The term "in the course of
employment" does not require that the misconduct fall within
the four corners of the job but rather includes conduct that is in
some way related or associated with the employment.
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.
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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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