A recent Ontario Superior Court decision has added more fuel to the fire of cases in which substantial damages have been awarded, over and above the normal severance claim. In this instance, once again, the employer could have easily reduced the damage award had it taken prompt and fair steps to investigate and act to stop the abusive conduct.
In this instance, the 73-year-old plaintiff had been a clerk with 19 years of service. She had complained of constant verbal harassment by a co-worker. The company advised that it was short-staffed but would “run it by” the human resources person. Two follow-up reminders from the employee resulted in no affirmative investigation. The last complaint was made accusing her co-worker of slapping her across the face three times. At the time of this event, she complained to the managing director as well as the police. This resulted in her termination without notice or financial compensation.
The claim against the company resulted in an award of roughly $200,000, which included separate awards for assault and battery and aggravated damages.
The termination was found to be a reprisal under the Occupational Health & Safety Act which contributed to the award of aggravated damages. Other factors influencing this additional damage award were the company’s failure to investigate the complaint, the denial of health benefits upon termination, and the failure to provide a reference letter.
$15,000 was awarded for the assault upon the employee. The court found that the employer was responsible for the actions of the co-worker who had struck the plaintiff.
The severance award was set at 19 months in the sum of $130,000.
The case is a text book example of abusive employer conduct.
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