Imagine yourself at work and a co-worker intentionally hits you. For most people, such situations are unthinkable. Hitting, slapping, grabbing, or unwanted touching of any part of a person’s body is completely unacceptable in today’s workplace, and yet, it continues to happen.
This type of conduct can be categorized as both harassment and workplace violence. Harassment is illegal under both the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) in Ontario. Workplace violence is prohibited by the OHSA. Bill 132 amended this act to include the requirement for employers to investigate complaints of both workplace harassment and violence.
A year after the implementation of Bill 132, Workplace Safety North posted this article, which states that there was a 100% increase in reports of workplace harassment complaints. This does not mean that there was suddenly an increase in actual cases. Instead, the legislation provided a previously unavailable mechanism for reporting incidents and complaints in accordance with the Ministry of Labour.
As uncomfortable as it may be, we do need to understand what a reported case of workplace harassment and violence looks like in order to prevent it from happening again.
The case of Bassanese v. German Canadian News Company Limited et al., 2019 ONSC 1343 (CanLII) is particularly problematic. Ms. Bassanese was subjected to an ongoing litany of workplace harassment, which included the allegations of being slapped in the face three times by her co-worker. On the day she filed both an internal complaint and a police report about these abuses, Ms. Bassanese was terminated for employment without notice. A summary of this case is provided here.
As part of the decision to award punitive damages to the former employee, the courts included the fact that the employer’s actions were considered a reprisal as defined by the OHSA. Furthermore, the failure on the part of the employer to comply with the legal requirements, as prescribed by the OHSA, to investigate workplace harassment and violence complaints, resulted in the costly damages to be paid by the employer to the employee.
No amount of compensation, however, can pay for someone’s pain, humiliation, and suffering at the hands of their employer. It also, unfortunately, does not seem to be enough of a deterrence to make some employers stop.
- As an HR practitioner, what steps would you take if an employee came to you with a complaint that they were slapped by a co-worker? If an investigation provided evidence that an employee did slap a co-worker, what actions would you take?
- In the case of Bassanese v. German Canadian News Company Limited et al., 2019 ONSC 1343 (CanLII), what other cases did the courts consider as part of the final decision and award?