Can attending a white supremacist rally be grounds for dismissal?

| September 11th, 2017 | No Comments »

After several attendees of last month’s white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., were outed on social media and then quickly fired, Canadian employers are asking, “Can attending a white supremacist rally be grounds for dismissal?”

The answer is yes – but with several caveats.

 Freedom of speech does not translate to freedom from workplace consequences. Canadians are given the right to express their personal views, political preferences or ideologies, whether privately or in public. Although their opinions and behaviour may be perfectly legal, that does not render them immune from workplace discipline or dismissal.

Outside of unionized employees, an employer is well within its legal rights to discharge employees for virtually any reason, or for absolutely no reason at all, as long as a proper severance payment is provided. This is the beauty of Canadian dismissal law; paying severance makes just about any dismissal decision justified.

Technically, there is no difference between firing an employee because he or she identifies with white supremacists and firing that same employee because of restructuring. Neither employee has any right to challenge the basis for termination. And if a severance package is provided, there also should be no difference in the amount required.

The more interesting question is whether firing an employee for attending a rally can be seen as a form of misconduct such that there is just cause for dismissal without any severance at all. This is where dismissal law gets tricky. Termination for any form of misconduct without pay is usually difficult for employers to justify as they first have to prove that the punishment fits the alleged crime. But if the correct conditions are met, it can and should be done.

If an employee is publicly outed on social media for his or her participation at a white supremacist rally, it could be cause for dismissal.

Employers have a legitimate interest in protecting their brand and reputation, especially online. As the mob mentality of social media is now more powerful than ever before, an employee publicly shamed online, even for privately held beliefs, can be indirectly causing damage to an employer’s reputation and putting that employer’s decisions in the spotlight. In the United States, several employers faced extreme backlash when their employees were outed for attending a rally. An employer who does not take action in these circumstances could face far more negative publicity than an employer that takes quick steps to distance itself from that employee.

A more likely case for dismissal without severance is where there is some form of link between an employee’s behaviour and the workplace. Distributing hate propaganda to colleagues, posting flyers or pictures in the workplace or encouraging co-workers to agree with certain ideological beliefs, is a more-clear-cut case to deny severance.

Human-rights legislation across the country states that employers have a legal duty to provide workplaces free from harassment and discrimination, which extends to ensuring the actions of their employees do not create or even potentially create a poisoned workplace. While holding certain views or expressing them privately is not illegal, bringing them into the workplace for others to see and hear is a form of indirect discrimination that could lead to a successful human-rights complaint against both the offending employee and his or her employer.

If other employees refuse to work with an individual who is identified as supremacist, even if on his or her personal time, it could also lead to a court upholding a dismissal without severance. In a recent case, an employee was terminated for misconduct after he was charged for possession of child pornography. In upholding the dismissal, the court found that the charges themselves were so detrimental to the workplace and employee morale that the employer had no other option but to immediately fire him.

What conclusions can we draw?

Employees are clearly allowed to hold personal opinions and views, even racist ones, without fear that their thoughts or prejudices will follow them back to their desk. This by itself it not grounds to dismiss for cause, nor could it ever be. But once these views cause harm or potentially cause harm to an employer’s business interests, no employee should expect that any workplace law would protect them.

Author: Daniel Lublin

Publication: The Globe and Mail

What You Can Do About A Hostile Work Environment

| October 14th, 2016 | No Comments »

Hostile Work EnvironmentA hostile work environment is distressing for employees and costly for employers. Fortunately, the law provides many ways to combat and prevent hostile work environments.

An employee who is subject to a hostile work environment because of his or her race, sex, age, disability, family status, or any other trait listed in Ontario’s Human Rights Code, may be able to file a claim at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. The Tribunal hears claims related to hostile work environments that are rooted in employee’s protected traits.

An employee who is punished because they reported a hostile work environment to their employer can file a complaint to the Ministry of Labour under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act. Health and safety law also says that employers must protect employees from workplace harassment which can lead to a hostile work environment. Employees must also have a way to report allegations of harassment, and employers must investigate each employee’s allegation of harassment.

If a hostile work environment makes it intolerable for the employee to report to work, the employee may be able to quit their job and claim constructive dismissal. A constructive dismissal occurs where an employee has been treated so poorly that they are forced out of their job as if they had been fired. The employee quits, but then claims the payments that they would have been entitled to from the employer if the employee had been fired. A constructive dismissal can take place where an employer takes part in creating the hostile work environment, or where an employer does not prevent a hostile work environment.

Employees should not be too quick to quit and claim constructive dismissal, though. Constructive dismissal is very difficult to prove. Where an employee claims to have quit because of the employer’s actions, or lack of action, related to a hostile work environment, the employee must prove that it was intolerable for them to continue working, and would have been intolerable for any reasonable person in their position.

If your employer is simply upholding a reasonable workplace rule or policy, this will usually not be considered a hostile work environment. For example, if you are suspended because you were continuously late to work in violation of your employer’s lateness policy, your suspension would probably not be unlawful.

If you feel that you have been subject to a hostile work environment, you should speak with an employment lawyer before taking any action.

 

Author: Simone Ostrowski, Whitten & Lublin

Addressing Legal Issues Related to Mental Health

| May 21st, 2015 | No Comments »

The Mental Health of Employees at Work

Addressing the legal issues related to the mental health of employees at work is one of the more perplexing issues facing employers in Canada. It is because of the nature of this sensitive topic and a lack of awareness that issues begin stemming from mental health in an office environment. It is important to protect your employees and educate yourself on the steps to take to accommodate your employees. 

An Employer’s Lack of Awareness 

In the Globe and Mail article, Dealing with mental illness in the workplace, employment lawyer, Daniel Lublin, concludes that an employer’s lack of awareness of their employees’ mental well-being may not free them from liability in the event that violence occurs in the workplace. In the article, Mr. Lublin details and explains the following key points:

  • Employers have a duty to accommodate their employees so that the employee may fulfill their job responsibilities;
  • Employers have a duty to inquire where the mental state of their employee is in question;
  • Employees may even in some instances have a duty to disclose their mental illness to their employer;
  • Employers have a duty to prevent harm to others in the workplace by taking every reasonable measure to protect their employees from committing or being victims of violence;
  • Employers should establish procedures for informing their employees of health benefits and wellness programs that are available to them;
  • Employers should remain vigilant and record any unusual behaviours. They are responsible for ensuring employees receive all reasonable accommodations; and
  • Employers should regularly review and update their action plan for managing a potential or real fallout from workplace incidents.

Daniel Lublin on CFRB 1010

| March 24th, 2011 | No Comments »

Managing Partner of Whitten & Lublin, Daniel A. Lublin, was a featured guest today on the Jerry Agar Show on CFRB 1010. Mr. Lublin and Agar were discussing the recent privacy ruling handed down by the Ontario Court of Appeal.

Click here for a link to the podcast.

La Pornographie Au Travail

| May 31st, 2010 | No Comments »

By Cédric P. Lamarche

Puisque l’internet permet l’accès à un monde électronique sans frontière, la majorité des employeurs adoptent des règles très rigides en ce qui a trait à la consultation de sites internet lors des heures de travail.  Effectivement, ces règles visent à réduire les activités qui ne se rapportent pas au travail, et plus particulièrement, l’accès au contenu explicite qui se trouve en ligne.  Grâce à des technologies sophistiquées qui permettent la détection et la documentation d’activités électroniques, les employeurs peuvent assurés avec beaucoup plus de facilité l’observation de ces règles.

Dans un article intitulé Surfing porn still popular at work, qui a été publié récemment dans le Globe & Mail, l’auteur discute du fait qu’un nombre très élevé de personnes consultent régulièrement des sites internet pornographiques lors des heures de travail.   Selon l’article, les résultats d’une recherche démontrent que 70% des gens qui accèdent des sites pornographiques le font lors des heures de travail.  À titre d’exemple, l’auteur présente le cas d’un avocat sénior qui fut trouvé à passer jusqu’à huit heures par jour à consulter des sites pornographiques alors qu’il était au travail.

La question suivante devient donc très pertinente pour les employeurs ainsi que les employés : Est-ce qu’un employeur peut congédier un employé, avec motif valable, pour avoir consulté des sites pornographiques au travail ?  À première vue, la réponse à cette question semble évidente.  Toutefois, comme c’est souvent le cas dans le domaine du droit du travail, elle ne l’est pas.

Alors que la consultation de sites pornographiques au travail semble constituer un acte grossier qui pourrait vraisemblablement nuire à la réputation d’un employeur et causer des répercussions sérieuses pour une entreprise, il faut considérer les protections qui sont offertes aux employés par l’entremise du Code des droits de la personne de l’Ontario.  Notamment, le Code protège les employés contre la discrimination fondée sur l’existence présumée ou réelle, actuelle ou antérieure, d’un handicap.  Il reste à savoir qu’est-ce qui peut possiblement être considéré comme étant un handicap.

Est-ce qu’une dépendance à la pornographie peut être considérée comme étant un handicap ?

Si la réponse à cette question est dans l’affirmative, comme c’est le cas pour la dépendance à des substances contrôlées ainsi qu’à l’alcool, un employeur pourrait avoir l’obligation de prendre des mesures d’adaptation envers l’employé souffrant d’un tel handicap.  Ainsi, un employeur qui congédie un employée pour avoir consulté des sites pornographies lors des heures de travail, pourrait faire face à une requête pour discrimination devant le tribunal des droits de la personne s’il peut-être démontré que l’employé souffre ou semble souffrir d’une dépendance à la pornographie.

Lawyer faces criminal charges after clients act on his advice

| February 27th, 2008 | No Comments »

New York lawyer Felix Q. Vinluan, has been criminally charged on 13 counts after 10 nurses quit their job, allegedly on his advice.

The charges stem from an April 7, 2006 incident in which 10 clients of Mr. Vinluan mutually resigned from their position with Sentosa Care, a Long Island health care facility they worked for. The district attorney’s office said the mass resignation endangered 6 critically ill patients, 5 of which were children — because the resignations were not provided with advanced notice. 

The workers, who all immigrated to the United States from the Philippines in 2005, held at-will contracts. Vinluan claims, and his client’s attest, that he simply advised them that as an at-will employee, their employment could be terminated at anytime by either the employer or employee.

The County D.A.’s office claims that Mr. Vinluan went beyond his normal scope of giving advice and instead, encouraged the workers to submit their resignation. District attorney Lato said in a recent interview "If all Mr. Vinluan did was advise, rather than ‘encourage,’ he wouldn’t have been charged."

Vinluan asserts he is a target stemming from collusion between Sentosa’s attorney’s and County D.A. Spota after claims of a "secret meeting" between the two have surfaced. He further iterates Sentosa cannot afford to lose out on its pool of immigrant workers and is afraid of other worker’s doing the same as his 10 clients.

Canadian employees are not subject to at-will employment and any attempt to insert language into their employment relatinship that provides less generous severance that the minimum employment standards is invalid.

The issue of wrongful resignations is more interesting.  Similar to the employers’ obligation to provide advance notice of termination, employees must provide advance notice of their resignations, assuming there is no such contractual term that specifies another amount.  The amount of notice is dependant on how long it would reasonably take the employer to find a suitable replacement.  While wrongful resignation lawsuits in Canada are rare (proving a tangible economic loss is the reason), employees must still be careful.   

Even more interesting is whether or not Mr. Vinluan will be convicted.  The full article, found on Law.com, can be read here.

Daniel A. Lublin is a Canadian employment lawyer practicing exclusively in the law of wrongful dismissal. He can be reached at dan@toronto-employmentlawyer.com or through his website, www.toronto-employmentlawyer.com.   

Workplace harassment is a common employment law case

| August 2nd, 2007 | 2 Comments »

Here are five most frequent files appearing on my desk and in court dockets

1. Workplace Harassment
Following Canada’s first million dollar workplace harassment award, I can expect to see more of these claims walk through my door. That being said, most harassment claims are not credible as employees’ perceptions of their treatment are not dispositive of  the issue. The test is whether an employee can demonstrate continued employment was objectively intolerable, which must be in the eyes of the trial judge, not just those of the litigants.

2. Unjust performance appraisals
Employees often declare a critical review is either a form of harassment or management’s concoction to force their resignation. For an unwarranted review to amount to a wrongful dismissal, an employer must have acted in bad faith and prevented the employee’s improvement.

Justice Randall Echlin, in his decision for Ata-Ayi v. Pepsi Bottling Group, noted negative reviews, per se, do not lead to dismissal. He wrote;

It is essential to any healthy and constructive employment relationship that the employer be able to discuss in an open and candid fashion with its employees, so long as such discussion is proffered in good faith.  Sugar coating or minimizing legitimate concerns inhibits performance improvement and is work performance  not conducive to a healthy and vital working relationship.

3. Calculating severance pay
Courts do not follow any defined rules in calculating how much severance to pay an employee and neither does an ex-employer. At trial, a judge’s task is to consider the circumstances however, four factors do prevail: tenure, age, re-employability, and type of job.

4. Employment contracts
Anything can be written into an employment contract, but not all promises can be enforced. In breaking a contract, most argue the contract provides less than the minimal employment standards, is vague, or the employee was denied the time or opportunity to have the contract reviewed, among other criteria. I elaborated on this premise in my recent column Employment Contracts Can Be Broken.

5. Off duty behavior
Employees who believe their conduct away from the office is immune from discipline are mistaken. Thanks to social networking websites such as Facebook, employers have the technological means- and occasionally the inclination- to monitor behavior away from the job.

Click here for the full article: Workplace harassment is a common employment law case

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