Employers who have employees working off site, providing
services to clients on a regular basis, should take note of the
case of Hermann Cebert v. Groupe d'imprimerie Saint-Joseph
Saint-Joseph provided printing, photocopying and other services
to a third party client. Certain employees of Saint-Joseph,
including the plaintiff, worked at the premises of the client to
provide the contracted services, along with the client's own
The plaintiff, who had a supervisory role over
Saint-Joseph's other employees working at the client location
was physically attacked in the mailroom of the client by a
colleague. Although, prior to the attack, there had been some
discussions of the assignment of the attacker, there was no
apparent reason for the attack and the accompanying physical
violence. The incident was witnessed by several employees. The
president of the client intervened and "fired" the
plaintiff, telling him to leave the premises immediately. The
plaintiff called his supervisor immediately to report what had
happened and to ensure that the client continued to receive
services, despite his being forced to leave. Saint-Joseph
investigated, and while concluding that the plaintiff was not at
fault, made no effort to facilitate his return to work. In fact,
the plaintiff was terminated by Saint-Joseph who stated that the
decision was due to the events surrounding the fight on the
The plaintiff filed two complaints, one for psychological
harassment and another under section 122 of the Act respecting
labour standards (the "Act"). The latter alleged
that the plaintiff had been terminated due to the exercise of a
right under the Act. Both complaints were allowed by the Labour
Relations Commission. The Commission held that the act of violence
to which the plaintiff had been subjected constituted harassment,
as it resulted in a poisoned workplace for the plaintiff. More
importantly, it held that the actions of the president of the
client towards the plaintiff (which included the use of a racial
slur), amounted to harassment. While the Commission did not blame
Saint-Joseph for the actions of its client, it did take the view
that Saint-Joseph had failed in its obligation to put an end to the
harassment once it became aware of it. Rather than simply
terminating the employee, Saint-Joseph had an obligation to
actively intervene with its client to explain the situation and try
to convince the client to allow the employee back on its premises.
As Saint-Joseph was unable to adduce any evidence whatsoever that
it had done this, it failed to meet its obligations under the
Finally, the Commission held that the way the termination was
carried out amounted to harassment. Rather than acknowledging that
the plaintiff had been an innocent victim, Saint-Joseph fired him,
alleging the incident of the fight as the cause of the termination.
This was found to be vexatious behaviour, which produced a
long-term harmful effect on the plaintiff who felt diminished as a
result of the actions of the employer.
The moral of the story is that a Quebec employer, faced with
this kind of situation, must actively intervene to right a wrong
caused by a client or third party when the investigation reveals
that an employee has been the victim of harassment.
Moreover, the Commission acknowledged that the plaintiff had
exercised a right under the Act, such that the reprisal presumption
under section 122 and following of the Act was engaged. The mere
reporting of the act of harassment constituted the exercise of the
right. An employee is entitled to a work environment free from
harassment, and the employer must try to stop harassment if it
becomes aware of same. Therefore, the plaintiff had exercised the
right of claiming a harassment free workplace by reporting what he
believed to be harassment to the employer.
To reverse the presumption that the plaintiff had been
terminated for the exercise of this right, Saint-Joseph argued that
the wishes of their client left them no choice, but to terminate
the plaintiff. The Commission did not accept this as a defensible
reason for the termination of the plaintiff.
1. Hermann Cebert v. Groupe d'imprimerie
Saint-Joseph Inc.,  Q.C.C.R.T. 0373.
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.
A former teacher at Bodwell High School has learned a valuable lesson from the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal— it is not discriminatory for an employer to offer child-related benefits to only employees with children.
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.
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