Home Featured ‘Touchy-feely’ manager who pinned bad behaviour on low blood sugar not entitled to receive EI: Tribunal

‘Touchy-feely’ manager who pinned bad behaviour on low blood sugar not entitled to receive EI: Tribunal

by HR Law Canada

A worker who was fired following a work event where was accused of engaging in unwanted conduct towards several colleagues and an employee’s spouse is not entitled to receive Employment Insurance (EI) benefits, the Social Security Tribunal of Canada’s Appeal Division has ruled.

The tribunal upheld the denial of EI benefits to the senior manager, who was dismissed for alleged misconduct at a national storage company. The worker blamed his behaviour on his type 1 diabetes. He said he was experiencing low blood sugars on the night in question.

The tribunal’s decision affirmed the original decision by the General Division. Despite identifying legal errors in the General Division’s rationale, the Appeal Division concluded that his actions met the legal definition of misconduct under the Employment Insurance Act, thereby disqualifying him from receiving EI benefits.

Background of the case

R.D., who served in a senior management position from January 2021 to August 2022, was terminated following a company conference where he was accused of engaging in unwanted conduct towards several colleagues and a spouse of an employee during an evening “social mixer.”

The storage company, adhering to its anti-harassment and violence policy, received six written complaints regarding R.D.’s behavior at the event. Subsequently, the Canada Employment Insurance Commission initially granted EI benefits to R.D., a decision later reversed upon the employer’s request for reconsideration.

Tribunal’s findings

R.D. contested the denial of benefits, leading to a General Division hearing where it was determined that his dismissal resulted from misconduct. R.D. appealed this finding, asserting the General Division failed to provide adequate reasons, particularly neglecting to consider his type 1 diabetes and its impact on his conduct.

“(R.D.) argues his disability explains his behaviour and means he didn’t act wilfully,” the ruling stated. “He argues this means he didn’t commit misconduct.”

The Appeal Division found the General Division had indeed erred by not making specific findings about R.D.’s actions and their violation of the company policy, nor adequately addressing R.D.’s explanation involving fluctuating blood sugar levels. Nevertheless, the tribunal concluded these errors did not change the outcome.

Misconduct and policy violation

The tribunal emphasized that for conduct to constitute misconduct under the EI Act, it must be willful or, in some cases, reckless. The tribunal stated, “The Claimant wilfully touched his colleagues in an unwanted way,” citing R.D.’s admission to kissing the heads of three colleagues and pulling on a colleague’s back pants pocket.

These actions, which R.D. partly attributed to his “touchy-feely” nature and low blood sugar levels, were found to breach the employer’s anti-harassment policy.

Consideration of diabetes argument

Despite R.D.’s argument that his type 1 diabetes and resulting hypoglycemic events influenced his behavior, the tribunal found insufficient evidence to substantiate that his condition excused his conduct.

The decision noted, “The Claimant hasn’t established that low blood sugar would cause these sorts of inappropriate behaviour,” and pointed out that R.D. acknowledged being a “touchy-feely guy,” suggesting his actions were not solely due to his medical condition.

For more information, see RD v Canada Employment Insurance Commission, 2024 SST 155 (CanLII).

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