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“Absolute privilege” barred former employee’s complaint that employer’s confidential-information lawsuit against him was retaliatory under OHSA

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The legal doctrine of “absolute privilege” prevented an employee from complaining that his former employer’s lawsuit against him was in retaliation (reprisal) for the employee filing a previous safety-retaliation complaint against the same employer.

Sometime after it terminated the employee’s employment, the employer started a lawsuit against the employee alleging that he had taken confidential information belonging to the employer.  The employee then brought a complaint to the Ontario Labour Relations Board (actually his second safety-reprisal complaint), alleging that the employer’s lawsuit was itself in retaliation for him bringing the previous safety-retaliation complaint and therefore that the employer’s lawsuit violated the Occupational Health and Safety Act and entitled him to damages.

The OLRB noted that the legal doctrine of “absolute privilege” is “rooted in the public policy concern for ensuring freedom of speech in the context of judicial and quasi-judicial proceedings”.  That is, lawyers and parties should be free to draft and serve legal pleadings, asserting their legal position, without fear that the words used in such pleadings, or the fact that they commenced the legal proceedings, could themselves form the basis for a lawsuit against them.

The OLRB decided that, in this case, the starting of the confidential-information lawsuit against the employee was protected by absolute privilege, and therefore could not be used as the basis of a safety-retaliation complaint against the employer at the OLRB.  As such, the employee’s OLRB complaint was dismissed.

Lawrence Hill v Deltro Electric Ltd., 2017 CanLII 87176 (ON LRB)