IS YOUR WORKPLACE TOXIC? What You Need to Know About WORKPLACE HARASSMENT AND DISCRIMINATION IN ALBERTA
Have you ever worked in a toxic workplace in Alberta? If so, you know that it can be a hard place to work and the effects of this environment on an employee’s well-being can be long-lasting.
Simply put, a toxic workplace is a work environment where employees are subject to bullying, harassment, discrimination, or other abusive behaviours. The types of behaviours by an employer or manager that could create a toxic workplace include the following:
- inappropriate touching;
- yelling or swearing;
- intimidation tactics; and
- using derogatory terms.
A toxic workplace environment can be created by particularly appalling stand-alone events, or more often by repeated, consistent conduct by the employer.
It’s important to understand that these unfair and unreasonable behaviours may give rise to legal claims against the employer. In particular, an employee may have a claim for constructive dismissal due to the toxic work environment. Constructive dismissal occurs when an employer makes working conditions so intolerable that the employee feels they have no choice but to resign. In these circumstances, the employee is treated as if they were fired and may be entitled to damages for lost wages, benefits, and even aggravated damages due to the employer’s behaviour.
Importantly, the onus of proving a toxic workplace is on the employee, not the employer – so as an employee it’s important to document any incidents of harassment, bullying, or discrimination. Additionally, the assessment of whether there was a toxic workplace is based on an objective standard – meaning that the court looks at whether or not a “reasonable person” in the same circumstances would have been forced to resign. An employee may not be able to prove that a workplace was toxic if the working conditions were not bad enough to meet this objective standard.
An employee should make sure to speak with a lawyer before resigning and claiming constructive dismissal, as the lawyer can help you navigate your rights and determine the best course of action for your particular situation.
A toxic workplace can also give rise to a claim for discrimination under human rights legislation. In this scenario, the employee must prove that they were subjected to different treatment due to a protected characteristic, such as race, gender, or age.
McCharles v Jaco Line Contractors Ltd. is an Alberta case involving a particularly appalling example of workplace discrimination and harassment. In that case, the employer subjected the employee to ongoing sexual harassment, including referring to her using a demeaning nickname and even physically assaulting her. In addition to lost wages, the employee received $50,000 in general damages to compensate her for the injury to dignity she suffered due the employer’s behaviour. This was one of the highest awards of general damages ever given for this type of claim in Alberta.
No employee should have to endure a toxic workplace. If you feel your workplace environment has become unbearable, it’s important to understand your legal rights and options. Please contact the employment lawyers at Osuji and Smith for a consultation. Our lawyers are here to help you navigate this difficult situation and fight for the compensation you deserve.
Author: Evan H. J. Oikawa