Home Constructive Dismissal Mixed WSIAT ruling gives former Apple store manager green light to sue for constructive dismissal in Ontario court

Mixed WSIAT ruling gives former Apple store manager green light to sue for constructive dismissal in Ontario court

by HR Law Canada

A former Apple Canada store manager has been given the green light to sue the tech giant in court for constructive dismissal and related damages by Ontario’s Workplace Safety And Insurance Appeals Tribunal (WSIAT).

Apple filed an application with the WSIAT, arguing that the worker’s right of action against it had been taken away pursuant to the province’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (WSIA).

The tribunal said the main issue is whether the damages claimed in the civil action, filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, were “in whole or in part being sought as a result of a personal injury by accident and in the course of employment.”

If that were the case, a claim for compensation would be available under workers’ compensation via the WSIA.

The second issue to be considered was whether the damages the former store manager sought were under “constructive or wrongful dismissal that exist separate and apart from a claim for a work-related personal injury, including a mental stress injury.”

In a complicated ruling, Apple’s application was allowed, in part, but a good chunk of the case is being allowed to proceed in court.

Law and policy

The tribunal noted that, under section 13 of the WSIA, workers who sustain personal injuries by accident “arising out of and in the course of employment” are entitled to benefits under the insurance plan.

Since Jan. 1, 2018, the act has been explicit that — subject to some limitations — a personal injury includes a work-related “chronic or traumatic mental stress injury.”

Statement of claim

The worker’s statement of claim at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, amended on Oct. 18, 2023, seeks substantial damages in the neighbourhood of $30 million, including:

Breach of duty of confidentiality to the worker$1 million
Intentional infliction of mental suffering$2 million
Lost wages$1.5 million
30 months’ common law notice$750,000
Additional time required (12 months) to obtain re-employment as a result of her poor health$300,000
Damages for discrimination based on disability$1 million
Loss of earnings for discrimination based on disability$9 million
All future lost wages plus any applicable wage increases$10 million
Damages for misrepresentation$250,000
Damages for mental distress$2 million
Punitive, aggravated, and moral damages$1 million each
Special damages for expenses incurred seeking alternate employment$10,000
Damages for counselling and psychotherapy expenses$250,000
Source: WSIAT Ruling

The ruling

The tribunal allowed Apple’s application, in part. It found the worker was entitled to pursue her action for breach of contract for constructive dismissal with damages claimed based on alleged lack of notice.

The ruling meticulously dissected the various claims presented by the worker, drawing a line between those compensable under the WSIA and those that could proceed independently in civil court.

Constructive dismissal and breach of contract

Central to the ruling was her claim of constructive dismissal. The tribunal concluded that she could pursue her action for breach of contract for constructive dismissal, along with claims for related damages such as loss of RRSP participation and stock options.

“These claims may be established by the (worker) before the courts without any need to establish that she experienced a personal injury as a result of the applicant’s conduct,” it said.

Claims of harassment and mental suffering

However, the tribunal barred claims related to harassment, intentional infliction of mental suffering, and mental distress, insofar as these were linked to workplace injuries.

It found that such claims were predominantly covered by the WSIA. Nevertheless, the worker was allowed to pursue these claims as they pertained to the constructive dismissal itself.

Punitive damages

The tribunal permitted the worker’s claim for punitive damages related to her constructive dismissal to proceed. This aspect of the ruling underscores the potential for punitive damages in wrongful dismissal cases, aimed at punishing the employer’s conduct rather than compensating for injuries.

It noted that punitive damages do not require proof of an injury being sustained by the worker.

“Punitive damages do not require proof of an injury being sustained by the respondent,” the ruling noted.

On the issue of aggravated and moral damages, the tribunal took a more nuanced view.

“While the claim for these damages is tied to (her) alleged constructive dismissal, it is also related to injuries she allegedly sustained as a result of the actions and/or actions of (Apple) during the course of (her) employment,” it said. “Accordingly, I find that (she) may pursue her claim for aggravated and moral damages in respect of injuries sustained as a result of the alleged constructive dismissal of her employment, but not otherwise for any injuries sustained due to the actions or inactions of (Apple) that occurred in the course of her employment.”

Breach of confidentiality

The worker’s claim for breach of confidentiality was also allowed to move forward. The Tribunal found that this claim, rooted in the contractual relationship between the worker and Apple, was not inherently linked to her mental distress from workplace harassment, and thus was not barred by the WSIA.

Human rights and special damages

The decision also allowed her to pursue damages for discrimination based on disability under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Specifically, she could seek compensation for injuries to her dignity, feelings, and self-respect resulting from the alleged discrimination.

Additionally, special damages related to expenses incurred while seeking alternative employment, such as fuel and résumé preparation, were permitted.

Summing it up

The tribunal partially allowed the application, permitting the worker to proceed with her claims for damages related to breach of duty of confidentiality, constructive dismissal in lieu of appropriate notice, special damages connected to the constructive dismissal, and damages for failing to provide a letter of reference.

Additionally, claims for intentional infliction of mental suffering, mental distress, misrepresentation, and aggravated, punitive, and moral damages related to the constructive dismissal were allowed, but claims for injuries sustained during the course of employment were barred by the WSIA.

Claims for loss of health benefits, RRSP plan participation, and stock options were allowed only insofar as they pertain to pay in lieu of notice, while claims for lost wages or other economic losses linked to workplace injuries were barred.

Her claim under the Human Rights Code for discrimination based on disability could proceed for damages to dignity, feelings, and self-respect, but not for lost wages or economic loss resulting from the constructive dismissal.

All other damage claims, including extended notice, future lost wages, and counselling expenses, were barred by the WSIA, it ruled. She is entitled to claim benefits for her chronic mental stress injury under the WSIA and may file a claim within six months of the decision.

Lessons from this ruling

  1. Distinguishing Claims: Employers need to clearly differentiate between claims for constructive dismissal and those arising from personal injuries. The ruling reinforces that constructive dismissal claims, particularly those involving breaches of contract, can proceed independently of WSIA-covered injuries.
  2. Addressing Workplace Harassment: The decision highlights the legal risks associated with failing to address workplace harassment. Employers must take complaints seriously and conduct thorough investigations to prevent significant legal liabilities.
  3. Maintaining Confidentiality: Employers have a duty to protect employees’ personal health information. Breaches of confidentiality can lead to independent legal claims, as demonstrated by the worker’s successful argument in this case.

For more information, see Decision No. 1267/22, 2024 ONWSIAT 523 (CanLII).

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