Toronto Raptors head coach  recently made headlines for unfiltered comments about his team members. This season, he has publicly called out a number of them for their poor performances. Some have commended him for giving team members the motivation they needed to perform better – by providing them with “tough love” instead of sugar-coating the truth about their lacklustre performance. However, the reality is very different when it comes to managing employees in the workplace. Indeed, publicly criticizing your employees may form grounds for a harassment complaint.

In Ontario, the Occupational Health and Safety Act outlines an employer’s responsibilities in addressing and investigating workplace harassment. According to Ontario’s guide on workplace violence and harassment, workplace harassment can involve unwelcome words or actions that are known or should be known to be offensive, embarrassing, humiliating or demeaning to a worker or group of workers in a workplace. Public criticism of an employee falls within this category and, as such, may constitute workplace harassment. In addition, public criticism may form grounds for a claim of intentional infliction of mental suffering.

Trends in the case law indicate that judges and other decision-makers are increasingly sensitive to harassment-related claims in the workplace. For example, in Iluyomade v Toronto Community Housing Corp., 2018 ONSC 7727, the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) dismissed an employee. The employee sued a number of TCHC’s executives, management and employees for intentional infliction of mental suffering . One aspect of the harassment faced by the employee involved the manager criticizing him in front of other staff members. The employee argued that the harassment he faced caused him stress, anxiety and depression. In this decision, the defendants’ motion to strike the employee’s statement of claim was dismissed.

Needless to say, running a basketball team and managing employees in the workplace are two different things. Employers should be mindful of how they are delivering criticism to their employees. They should ensure that the criticism is constructive and is not publicized, embarrassing, humiliating or demeaning. Otherwise, employers run the risk of being hit with a harassment complaint.

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