Gossip, Personality Conflicts were not Harassment under Ontario OHSA: OLRB

The Ontario Labour Relations Board has dismissed a reprisal complaint under the Occupational Health and Safety Act because the employee’s allegations – which included “gossip” – did not rise to the level of “harassment” as defined in the OHSA.

The employee, a male teacher, alleged that two female teachers had harassed him.  According to the OLRB, he relied on the following alleged harassing behaviour: one teacher’s “teaching methods and style, her alleged tardiness and her alleged lack of attention to matters of student health and safety during lab work”;  the same teacher “allegedly spread gossip about another teacher” (not the employee himself); the two teachers “declined his suggestion to meet to discuss departmental issues”; the two teachers “confronted him on one occasion about his criticisms of [one of the teachers] as a teacher”; and one teacher “shouted at him once to turn off the lights in the course of a meeting.”

As for the shouted admonition to turn the lights off, the OLRB stated that it “amounts to a single instance of rudeness.”  At best, the OLRB decided, there was a personality conflict between the male teacher and the female teacher who asked him to turn off the lights.  “That kind of problem can and should be resolvable as between adult professionals.  In the circumstances of this case it is quite simply not workplace harassment.”

The OLRB’s decision is a welcome suggestion that personality conflicts that do not rise to the level of harassment should not become legal issues bogging down the employer and co-workers.  Such disputes should be resolved internally and, if possible, between employees.

Parsons v. Simcoe County District School Board, http://canlii.ca/en/on/onlrb/doc/2012/2012canlii395/2012canlii395.html.

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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