City of Toronto manager’s ‘Are you here again?’ query was not workplace harassment: Arbitrator

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“Are you here again?”

That response, from a manager, was part of a workplace harassment grievance involving the City of Toronto and a unionized employee with Local 79 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

The grievor, Danielle Stockey, worked in the data management centre of the Urban Forestry department in the city’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation division.

She was one of about 11 employees who reported to Teresa Bosco, and the centre was managed by Daniel Boven.

Allegations of workplace harassment

The union said the city violated the collective agreement by failing to provide Stockey with a workplace free from harassment.

Stockey alleged management failed to prevent co-workers from harassing her, that the employer failed to respond to her reports of harassment and that Bosco and Boven also harassed her.

Issues tackled during the arbitration included:

  • training opportunities
  • scent in the workplace
  • horseplay between co-workers
  • a loud argument
  • conflict with a co-worker over a repeat call
  • a request for change in work hours
  • a co-worker’s last day
  • interrupting the grievor while working.

The arbitrator dismissed all those complaints. The final complaint revolved around Bosco not speaking to Stockey.

Allegations that boss ignored worker

The union alleged Bosco “did not speak to the grievor for days or include the grievor in any discussions.”

But at the hearing, Stockey did not testify that Bosco ignored her for days nor did she identify any discussions from which she was excluded.

“Rather, when asked about this allegation, the grievor testified that she would sometimes go to Ms. Bosco’s office and Ms. Bosco, upon seeing the grievor, would say, “Are you here again?  I’m not open for a discussion.  If you want a discussion with me, put it in an email,'” the arbitrator said.

“Taken at its highest, it might even be fair to say that that particular comment was inappropriate,” it said. But not every instance of inappropriate conduct will support a finding of harassment.

To be harassment, conduct has to have an abusive quality and represent a “departure from reasonable conduct,” it said.

“In my view, it was not unreasonable for Ms. Bosco, who supervised numerous employees in addition to whatever other duties she may have had, to tell the grievor that she was not available to speak when the grievor showed up at her office and to direct the grievor to email Ms. Bosco with her concerns instead,” the arbitrator said.

This was driven home by the record before the arbitrator, which revealed Stockey went to Bosco with “many complaints.”

No right to meet with supervisor at will

“In general, bargaining unit employees do not have the right to meet with their supervisor whenever they wish to do so,” the arbitrator said. “Nor is there any suggestion that the collective agreement between these parties gave the grievor that right.”

The employer’s motion that the grievance be dismissed due to lack of a prima facie case was granted.

For more information, see Toronto (City) v Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 79, 2023 CanLII 999 (ON LA).