Home Arbitration/Labour Relations OLRB rules against Stelco, citing inadequate ‘closure letter’ after workplace harassment complaint and investigation

OLRB rules against Stelco, citing inadequate ‘closure letter’ after workplace harassment complaint and investigation

by HR Law Canada

Stelco failed to meet its obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) regarding workplace harassment of one its employees that occurred via social media, the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) has ruled.

This decision came after a worker at its Lake Erie Works facility — identified as SH — challenged the adequacy of Stelco’s response to her harassment complaint.

In August 2022, SH lodged a harassment complaint alleging she had been harassed on social media by several co-workers. Following an internal investigation, Stelco acknowledged the harassment and promised corrective measures.

Dissatisfied with Stelco’s communication regarding the actions taken, SH appealed to the Ministry of Labour, leading to an investigation by an inspector. That inspector’s refusal to issue an order against Stelco prompted SH to file an appeal with the OLRB.

The core issue reviewed by the OLRB was whether Stelco’s written communication to SH satisfied the requirement under section 32.0.7(1)(b) of the OHSA, which mandates that employers inform complainants and alleged harassers of the investigation’s results and corrective actions taken.

Stelco argued that its correspondence fulfilled this duty, while SH, supported by the United Steelworkers Union and the Director, claimed it fell short, leaving employees uninformed and unprotected.

Closure letter fell short

The OLRB determined that Stelco’s closure letter did not meet the statutory requirements, as it neither specified which respondents were found to have engaged in harassment nor detailed the corrective measures implemented.

“Simply put, to be ‘informed’ of the ‘results’ of a harassment investigation and ‘of any’ corrective action that has or will be taken, one must be advised of the specific results arising from a complaint of harassment, and of the specific corrective measures taken by an employer to address findings of harassment,” the Board said. “This is consistent rather than inconsistent with the dictionary definitions relied upon by Stelco.”

The decision emphasizes that being informed of the specific outcomes and actions is crucial to protect workers from workplace harassment effectively.

“Without knowing which respondents were found to have engaged in harassment and what steps an employer has or will be taking to respond to same, a victim of workplace harassment is left with little reliable information concerning serious workplace health and safety matters,” the Board said. “That outcome diminishes rather than promotes the objective of protecting workers from workplace harassment.”

Employer concerns addressed

The Board addressed concerns by the employer that disclosure of information obtained during the investigation would breach confidentiality and undermine the integrity of the investigative process.

“To repeat, the Employer is not required to disclose a report summarizing all the factual findings that it reached during its investigation, nor is it required to disclose information relied upon by the Employer to justify the appropriateness of the corrective measures that it has taken,” the Board said.

In the end, the Board ruled that Stelco’s closure letter to SH did not comply with the legislation because:

  • its disclosure of the “results” of the investigation did not identify which of the named respondents were found to have engaged in harassment as alleged; and
  • it did not disclose the specific corrective measures that had or would be taken as a result of the investigation.

It ordered Stelco to reissue a closure letter to SH in a manner that “rectifies the deficiencies.”

For more information, see Shannon Horner v Stelco Inc. Lake Erie, 2024 CanLII 16448 (ON LRB).

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