The days of having to grin and bear the abusive boss are over.

When Anna Stamos’s boss kicked down her door and threatened her, she walked out of her workplace never to return. But that was not the last that Annuity heard from Stamos. She sued for constructive dismissal.

Having resigned, Stamos should be foreclosed from suing, argued the employer. The Ontario Superior Court of Justice disagreed. Every employee has the right to be treated with civility by management. Employer mistreatment constitutes a serious breach of the employment agreement entitling the employee to recover damages as if she had been fired.

The message of this decision for employers and employees are far reaching:

  1. Employers should institute stringent policies that set out their commitment to a respectful workplace. The definition should include a prohibition on disrespectful treatment including raising one’s voice at a report; singling out an employee for humiliating behaviour; name calling or slurs; accusing an employee of non-legitimate performance issues; or sending excessive numbers of emails at all hours of the day and night.
  2. The complaint procedures should be accessible to staff and spell out how an employee can complain about disrespectful behaviour and what the employer will do to investigate. Provide assurances that complainants will not be subject to any form of retaliation, even if the claim proves to be the result of a misunderstanding.
  3. No commitment is complete without a penalty section. Staff must be made to understand that the employer will not hesitate to take disciplinary measures including suspension and firing for cause. The existence of such an internal procedure will effectively preclude embarrassing and expensive litigation.
  4. If an employee is on the receiving end of racial comments or sexualized slurs, she has the additional redress of an application under the Human Rights Code. Abusive behaviour based on prohibited grounds such as sex, race, colour, disability, sexual orientation or religion, then that process will afford the affected employee remedies including general damages, damages for mental distress and lost damages. The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has powerful weapons to enforce proper workplace conduct.
  5. Had Mary Stamos experienced the violence in 2013, she could have filed a claim under Occupational Health and Safety Act. That statute prohibits workplace violence and threatening behaviours . Employers are mandated to implement procedures and policies to prevent,address and investigate workplace violence.

Speak to an employment law specialist about dealing with workplace harassment- devising preventative measures, responding to complaints, conducting investigations or initiating or defending legal proceedings.