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Can Employers Be Sued for a Toxic Workplace Environment?

Non-unionized employees in Ontario can, unfortunately, end up forced to deal with a toxic workplace environment at their place of employment. This normally refers to a significant single incident or repeated incident at the workplace in which continued employment becomes intolerable. Some examples can include repeated incidents of harassment or discrimination that the employer fails to adequately address. Employees forced to work in such workplaces may have questions regarding the options available to them to address the hostile and toxic situation they find themselves in.

What Options are Available to Address a Toxic Workplace Environment?

Employees cannot normally sue an employer for the creation of a toxic workplace environment directly. There are, however, three main methods for a non-unionized employee in Ontario to seek readdress if an employer allows for the creation of a toxic workplace environment. These methods are a Human Rights application, complaint under the employer’s existing policies, or a lawsuit at court for constructive dismissal.

Human Rights Application

One option available to an employee facing a toxic workplace environment is filing a Human Rights application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. This method is available where the toxic work environment is a result of discriminatory conduct by the employer, or other employees that the employer has failed to adequately address. The egregious conduct or harassment the employee is facing must be related to one of the grounds of discrimination under the Ontario’s Human Rights Code. Through this method, the employee can seek monetary compensation in general damages or lost wages for the toxic workplace environment.

Health and Safety Violations

The Occupational Health and Safety Act states that employers with more than five employees must have a workplace policy regarding workplace violence and harassment. A toxic workplace environment born out of repeated conduct or comment known or ought to be known to be unwelcome would fall under such required policies. The workplace policy should include a method to investigate and deal with complaints. As such, if the employee is facing harassment from another employee, there may be a means for the employer to investigate and implement disciplinary measures against the harasser.

Constructive Dismissal due to a Toxic Workplace Environment

Additionally, employees facing a toxic work environment have the option to allege constructive dismissal at court and seek pay in lieu of notice for the same. A constructive dismissal is a dismissal through the actions of the employer, rather than an explicit dismissal of the employee’s employment. In this instance, the employer failing to provide a workplace environment free from harassment could amount to a fundamental and unilateral change to the employment agreement. This option could be costly for the employer where there the employment agreement contains an unenforceable termination clause and the employee has worked there for some time.

The best option out of the above will depend on the specific facts of an employee’s matter. An employee should consult with an employment lawyer prior to pursuing any of the above listed methods.

Contact Us

If you are an employer and are facing a claim of creating a toxic workplace environment, or an employee who has been suffering from a toxic workplace environment, our team of experienced workplace lawyers at Achkar Law can help. Contact us by phone toll-free at +1 (800)771-7882 email us at [email protected] and we would be happy to assist.

If you are a small or medium-sized company looking for full-service support, visit our CLO program page for our strategic solutions.

Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to serve as or should be construed as legal advice and is only to provide general information. It is in no way particular to your case and should not be relied on in any way. No portion or use of this blog will establish a lawyer-client relationship with the author or any related party. Should you require legal advice for your particular situation, fill out the contact form, call (800) 771-7882 or email [email protected]