After being told that she should just “quit” if she felt unsafe, dismissed employee awarded $15,000 in damages

A charity has been ordered to pay a dismissed employee $15,000 in damages for dismissing her shortly after she had raised safety issues, in violation of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The charity ran retail stores that helped fund its operations. The employee was supervisor of the book room at one of its stores.

The Ontario Labour Relations Board stated that it was clear that on the day the employee was dismissed, that the employer was aware of several attempts by the employee to exercise her rights under the OHSA.  On one occasion, the executive director told her that if she felt unsafe at work, she should just “quit”.

The executive director admitted that it was “common knowledge” that the employee was “involved in OHSA”; that the employee had spoken with a Ministry of Labour inspector during a recent visit to the workplace; that the employee had been instrumental in having a worker member elected to the joint health and safety committee, and later had herself been elected; and that the employee had refused to perform unsafe work (moving a large quantity of books) approximately one month before her dismissal.  The OLRB held that “any one” of these admissions would have called in doubt the reason given by the employer for dismissing her – a restructuring of the workplace.   This was especially true given that the restructuring of its workplace would involve an expansion which would require the hiring of additional employees.

As such, the OLRB decided that the employer had failed to discharge its onus under the OHSA to establish that its dismissal of the employee was not a reprisal for asserting her rights under the OHSA.

The OLRB awarded the employee $15,062.00 including $8,780.09 for loss of her job and $3,500.00 for emotional pain and suffering (including for demoting her, shortly before the termination, in front of her coworkers).

Leah Podobnik v Society of St. Vincent de Paul Stores (Ottawa) Incorporated, 2016 CanLII 65109 (ON LRB)

Adrian Miedema

About Adrian Miedema

Adrian is a partner in the Toronto Employment group of Dentons Canada LLP. He advises and represents public- and private-sector employers in employment, health and safety and human rights matters. He appears before employment tribunals and all levels of the Ontario courts on behalf of employers. He also advises employers on strategic and risk management considerations in employment policy and contracts.

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