Home Featured Medical clinic engaged in prohibited action when it fired worker who reported sexual harassment, physical assaults

Medical clinic engaged in prohibited action when it fired worker who reported sexual harassment, physical assaults

by HR Law Canada

A medical clinic in British Columbia engaged in prohibited action against a worker after it fired her for making a workplace-safety related complaint, the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal (WCAT) has ruled — upholding an earlier decision.

The case involved a worker who alleged she was dismissed from her position in November 2020 after raising concerns about workplace safety. The worker reported that one of the doctors at the clinic had made unwanted sexual advances, including physical assaults, and that her complaints were dismissed by the clinic’s management.

She was subsequently terminated, allegedly for wearing “inappropriate clothing.”

The workers’ compensation board (Board) initially found in January 2023 that the worker had established a prima facie case of prohibited action, which the employer failed to rebut. The board awarded the worker about $4,000 in lost wages and holiday pay, with interest. The employer appealed this decision to the WCAT.

WCAT’s decision

The WCAT’s decision examined two primary issues: whether the employer took prohibited action against the worker and what the appropriate remedy should be.

Prohibited action

The Tribunal found that the worker had indeed engaged in a protected safety activity by reporting inappropriate conduct by the doctor to the clinic’s office manager. Despite the worker’s report lacking in detail, the Tribunal emphasized that it was sufficient to alert the employer to potential safety issues, necessitating further investigation. The Tribunal noted:

“It is incumbent on an employer to inquire into reports of ‘inappropriate conduct’ in the workplace… It is not enough for an employer to simply ignore or not make further inquiries once a worker has taken the step of raising concerns about inappropriate conduct in the workplace.”

The Tribunal also criticized the employer’s defense, which primarily argued that the worker’s report did not constitute a safety concern. The Tribunal stated that the office manager’s direction to the doctor to maintain neutral conversations indicated awareness of problematic interactions.

Appropriate remedy

Regarding the remedy, the Tribunal upheld the Board’s decision to limit the award to the period before the worker’s total disability benefits began in December 2020. The Tribunal found no grounds to extend the remedy beyond this date, as the worker’s ongoing disability was due to the doctor’s harassment, not the prohibited action itself.

Key takeaways

  1. Employer Responsibility: Employers must thoroughly investigate any reports of inappropriate conduct or safety concerns raised by employees, regardless of how they are presented.
  2. Prohibited Action: Dismissing an employee shortly after they raise safety concerns, even if not explicitly framed as such, can be deemed prohibited action.
  3. Remedy Limitations: Remedies for prohibited action are generally limited to losses directly caused by the action. If a worker’s subsequent disability is due to separate harassment, the remedy will not cover the period of disability.

For more information, see A2300479 (Re), 2024 CanLII 43014 (BC WCAT).

You may also like

About Us

HR Law Canada is dedicated to covering labour and employment news for lawyers, HR professionals and employers. Published by North Wall Media.