Health and safety manager’s termination upheld by Ontario court in bizarre workplace accident case

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The Ontario Superior Court has upheld the termination of a former Health, Safety, and Training Manager at Patene Building Supplies after she allegedly failed to report her own workplace injury and filed a workers’ compensation claim on her own.

SL, who held her position for over thirteen years, faced dismissal following the management of a personal injury claim she filed with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).

The case centered around her handling of a fall in the company’s parking lot in March 2019, which she reported to WSIB but failed to promptly inform her superiors. The incident came to light only in October 2019, leading to an internal investigation by Patene’s president — which culminated in her termination in December 2019.

The court found substantial issues with SL’s credibility, particularly concerning the inconsistencies in her reporting of the accident and her failure to follow established accident reporting procedures. The ruling noted that these actions breached both the company’s internal policies and the requirements of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997.

Counterclaim by employer

Additionally, Patene Building Supplies counterclaimed for approximately $30,000, relating to a loan made to SL. However, this claim was dismissed due to the loan agreement being held by a separate entity, not directly by Patene.

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice, in dismissing SL’s wrongful dismissal claim, emphasized the importance of honesty and compliance with company policies, especially for those in managerial positions.

“An employer cannot be expected to employ a Health and Safety manager who does not comply with health and safety policies when those policies affect her, and then is dishonest with her employer about what happened after the fact,” the court said.

The judgment highlighted that her actions had irrevocably damaged the trust necessary for her role, justifying her termination for cause.

Punitive damages

The court also briefly touched upon the issue of punitive damages, concluding that even if the dismissal was found to be without cause, the actions of Patene Building Supplies did not warrant such damages.

This aspect of the ruling underscores the high threshold required for punitive damages in employment disputes.

“In order to establish a claim for punitive damages, a Plaintiff must show that a Defendant engaged in conduct that was malicious, oppressive and high handed.  It is the sort of conduct that represents a marked departure from ordinary standards of decent behaviour,” the court said.

“I see nothing in the facts of this case that would show that the Defendant engaged in any conduct worthy of Court sanction, either by asserting that the Plaintiff had fraudulently claimed this accident or in expressing those concerns to the WSIB.”

Costs

The parties were encouraged to agree on the costs of the action, with strict guidelines provided for submitting costs submissions, underscoring the court’s aim to facilitate a resolution to this prolonged legal battle.

This ruling is a significant reminder of the responsibilities and expectations placed on managers, particularly in the field of health and safety, and the potential consequences of failing to adhere to established policies and legal obligations.

For more information, see Lagala v. Patene Building Supplies Ltd, 2024 ONSC 253 (CanLII).

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