The Ontario Court of Appeal has upheld a 24-month damage award
to a long-service nurse in a doctor's office who believed that
she had been fired during a hostile meeting with her employer.
The doctor for whom she worked wanted her to look into
electronic medical records (EMR). She was overwhelmed with a heavy
workload and did not get to it. The doctor angrily confronted her
in a meeting, at which the doctor's wife was also present. The
court found that the doctor, in his anger, said, "Go! Get out!
I am so sick of coming into this office every day and looking at
your ugly face." He also pointed at her, shouted at her,
accused her of being resistant to change, and used profanity during
that meeting. The employee, distraught, left the meeting and never
returned to work. The employer treated her as having quit. The
employee sued for wrongful dismissal.
The trial judge decided that although the doctor did not intend
to dismiss the nurse, he did in fact fire her when he told her to
"Go! Get out!"
Even if the doctor had not fired the employee, he had
constructively dismissed her, the trial judge stated. Although the
meeting was only one incident, it was sufficient to constitute a
constructive dismissal. The trial judge wrote:
"An employer owes a duty to its employees to treat them
fairly, with civility, decency, respect and dignity. An employer
who subjects employees to treatment that renders competent
performance of their work impossible, or continued employment
intolerable, exposes itself to an action for constructive
dismissal. Where the employer's treatment of the employee is of
sufficient severity and effect, it will be characterized as an
unjustified repudiation of the employment contract."
The trial judge found that the doctor's behaviour was
condescending, aggressive, hostile and profane. His conduct
diminished the nurse's stature and dignity in the office. When
the doctor saw the emotional impact that his comments had on her at
the meeting, he did nothing. He had made her continued employment
intolerable, and effectively destroyed the employment
The trial judge awarded this 22-year employee 24 months'
salary in damages for wrongful dismissal. The appeal court upheld
The trial judge's decision can be read here, and the appeal court's decision here.
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The arbitrator's decision covered a number of issues including whether the termination was appropriate and whether the City had breached the grievor's human rights. The following, however, will focus on the privacy issue raised.
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