Workplace violence is a serious concern for employees and employers alike. Employees expect safe workplaces and employers have a concomitant duty to ensure their safety. Therefore, it is critical for employers to understand how to minimise workplace violence and respond if it arises. Syncrude's handling of this situation in Belyea v Syncrude Canada Ltd is exemplary and offers key lessons on how to address workplace aggression.
Key employees, which are crucial to the success of any organisation, are entrusted with authority and autonomy to execute their duties. A recent case concerned a key employee who broke this trust by profiteering for several years from kickbacks while the employer paid inflated prices for supplies. When the fraud was discovered, the employee was fired. However, termination alone may be cold comfort to an employer that has suffered losses from fraud. Can anything else be done?
Whether a poisoned workplace justifies a claim for constructive dismissal depends on the facts. The key question is whether the employer fundamentally breached its obligation to provide a safe and harassment-free workplace. The Alberta Court of Queen's Bench recently addressed the issue of how an employer can properly address a poisoned workplace complaint to ensure that it adequately cares for its employees and minimises its liability exposure.
In 2016 the Alberta government commissioned an evaluation of the entire workers' compensation system. In July 2017 the Alberta Workers' Compensation Board review panel issued a report which found that employers and workers overwhelmingly wanted the system to continue. However, significant problems exist and, based on these findings, the panel issued a list of recommendations. While the extent to which the government adopts these recommendations remains to be seen, further debate is likely.
The risks to employers in sexual harassment cases can be big. Potential liability can arise from any decision and employers may find themselves having to make tough decisions on tight timelines. The key to ensuring an appropriate response is to be prepared. Preparation will permit an employer to take a proactive approach, as opposed to a reactive stance, when sexual harassment is discovered. This is a lesson that can be drawn from a recent Alberta Court of Queen's Bench case.