In a previous post on this blog, we discussed how an employer’s non-compliance with workplace harassment and violence provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act resulted in a $70,000 fine ordered against the employer. Recently, the Superior Court reminded employers of the importance of ensuring that a harassment-free workplace is maintained and that all complaints are taken seriously and thoroughly investigated. After 40 days of trial spanning over the course of a year and a half, the Court in Merrifield v Canada (Attorney General) ordered the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (“RCMP”) to pay general damages of $100,000 and special damages of $41,000 to a member of the RCMP for harassment and intentional infliction of mental suffering at the workplace.
The Plaintiff stated that he was harassed and bullied by his superiors, which damaged his reputation, impaired his career advancement and caused him to suffer severe emotional distress. The harassment faced by the Plaintiff included accusations that he had committed criminal offences and a subsequent investigation as a result of these allegations. In this case, the Court held that the tort of harassment exists and it is recognized as an independent cause of action in Ontario. The Court made the following findings:
(a) the Defendants’ conduct toward the Plaintiff was outrageous;
(b) the Defendants had reckless disregard of causing the Plaintiff to suffer emotional distress;
(c) the emotional distress suffered by the Plaintiff was severe; and
(d) the Defendants’ outrageous conduct was the actual and proximate cause of the Plaintiff’s emotional distress.
As such, the Plaintiff had proven all of the elements of the tort of harassment. Further, the Court was satisfied that the tort of intentional infliction of mental suffering was made out because the Plaintiff suffered depression and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the RCMP’s actions. The general damages of $100,000 were meant to compensate him for the harm suffered as a result of these actions. This case illustrates the potentially costly result of an employer’s failure to ensure a workplace free of harassment, especially now that there appears to be a relatively new tort of harassment, which is not based on any of the prohibited grounds of discrimination. This potentially constitutes an alternate route for employees to seek damages against employers who are not careful in ensuring that their workplaces are harassment-free.
Please note that this decision has been appealed.