Criticizing Employees Publicly: What You Should Know

Sometimes, employees make mistakes or are not as productive as expected. Employers should know how best to provide feedback in situations like these without opening themselves up to liability by criticizing employees publicly.

While the law recognizes an employer’s right to manage their employees, employers cannot be unreasonable or humiliate their employees. This is more likely to occur when the criticism is taking place publicly where others can see or hear.

Public criticism tends to happen in person—but as we are currently seeing remote workplaces on the rise, public criticism can also occur within an email thread, over the phone, through group chat programs, and more.

Knowing how to properly provide constructive criticism to an employee can prevent legal disputes and promote a healthier employment relationship.

The Dangers of Public Criticism

An employer’s public criticism of an employee can create a toxic workplace environment, particularly if the criticism is demeaning, causes distress, and damages the employment relationship.

While creating a toxic workplace environment itself opens an employer up to liability, it can also lead to undue stress, resulting in worse performance by the employee, low morale, and ultimately affect a business’s bottom line.

Why Employers May Choose Publicly Criticizing Employees

Despite the risks outlined above, employers may believe criticizing an employee publicly is preferred or appropriate given the situation.

For example, an employer may wish to publicly criticize given that the mistake is serious and requires immediate reprimand. Employers may see the public criticism serves as a deterrent to other employees at risk of making the same mistake. They may also wish to ensure employees stay productive or become motivated to improve.

Employers may even intend to use public criticism as a way to let others know their concerns are being addressed.

However, employers would be wise to keep their criticisms private, and emphasize their policy in general publicly instead. Otherwise, they risk the following damages:

Damages for Public Criticism

If the public criticism goes beyond what is reasonable or is insensitive, the employer may need to pay damages, depending on the extent of the loss to the employee.

Sometimes, that loss comes in the form of damages for intentional infliction of mental distress or aggravated damages to compensate for mental distress. The Supreme Court of Canada in Honda Canada Inc v Keays determined employees could receive aggravated damages depending on the manner in which they were dismissed.

Ontario courts have sometimes awarded large aggravated damages where extreme public criticism played a factor in the dismissal of an employee. In one case, the Ontario Court of Appeal awarded $200,000.00 in aggravated damages to an employee who was berated by their manager in front of other employees.

Due to recent changes in Ontario case law, civil claims against employers related to chronic mental distress may need to go through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board for benefits. More information can be found in our article about the Morningstar v Hospitality Fallsview Holdings Inc case, which also dealt with public criticism of an employee.

Unless the public criticism is tied to a protected ground under the Ontario Human Rights Code or the Canadian Human Rights Act, there will likely be no human rights violations which would entitle to the employee to damages. If there is a connection, the fact that such a discriminatory criticism was made publicly would likely be aggravating factor.

Contact Us

Criticizing employees publicly may happen and trigger more than we bargained for. If you are an employer and want to know more about your obligations regarding managing employees, or an employee who has questions about your rights, our team of experienced legal professional at Achkar Law can help. Contact us by phone toll-free at 1-(800)771-7882 or email us at [email protected] and we would be happy to assist.

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

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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 1-(800)771-7882, or email [email protected].