After Co-Worker Washes Feet With Vinegar In Cubicle and Makes Threatening Statement, Employee Entitled to Transfer to Different Building

A Quality and Service Manager working for the Parole Board of Canada is entitled to work in an entirely different building from a co-worker – identified only as “Mr. X” – because she suffered from stress caused by Mr. X’s behaviour, a grievance adjudicator has held.

In 2009, Mr. X was moved to the cubicle next to the worker’s office. The worker alleged that Mr. X constantly distracted her during the workday by loudly unpacking his bag in the morning, eating strong smelling leftovers, walking barefoot in the office, making loud guttural noises, passing gas, swearing, and washing his feet with vinegar in his cubicle. The worker also testified that on one occasion when she was on the telephone, Mr. X was making so much noise that she stood up and hit their common wall to get him to stop. Mr. X then entered her office and said “What is your problem?… there is a line on the floor and do not cross that line because I do not know what will happen…”.

The worker testified that she complained to her supervisor, and asked that one of them be moved. The employer offered mediation as a method of resolving the conflict between the two workers, but the worker refused. The worker moved offices a few months later but she was still bothered by Mr. X’s behaviour when he passed by her new office location.

Despite the worker’s office move, 8 months later, Mr. X filed a harassment complaint against her, which included allegations that she called him a pig. To read the National Post’s article on Mr. X’s harassment complaint, click here.

Once the worker learned of the harassment complaint against her, she filed a harassment complaint against Mr. X and went on sick leave from September 2011 until March 2013. During that time, the employer offered the worker the accommodation of an office on a floor that Mr. X could not access. The worker refused, claiming there was a risk that Mr. X could access the floor by riding in an elevator with someone who did have access.

In or around April 2012, the worker filed a grievance against her employer, alleging that it did not comply with its duty to accommodate because she had medical notes stating she was fit for work, but not at the building in which Mr. X worked, and she did not receive an offer of accommodation that met her medical requirements.

The worker went on secondment in March 2013 for one year (in another building), at the end of which she was supposed to return to her position with her employer in the same building as Mr. X. The worker refused to return to work because, according to her, the corrective measures sought in her grievance (teleworking or working in a different building) had not been granted.

At the hearing, the worker tried to show that Mr. X’s abusive behaviour caused her emotional stress that affected her memory and her capacity to concentrate, and that she did not feel safe working in the same building as him. The Adjudicator considered whether the employer’s proposal to move her to another floor constituted a reasonable accommodation. The Adjudicator found that, in light of the testimony of the employee’s doctor that she had a real and genuine fear and that her medical condition would not improve if she returned to the workplace, even on a different floor, the employer’s proposed accommodation was not reasonable. Further, the Adjudicator found that the employer did not satisfy her that it was absolutely necessary for the worker return to that workplace.

The Adjudicator ordered the employer to move the worker to a different building, and to compensate her for the wages and benefits she lost during her sick leave.

Emond v. Treasury Board (Parole Board of Canada), 2016 PSLREB 4 (CanLII)

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Chelsea Rasmussen

About Chelsea Rasmussen

Chelsea advises and represents employers in all areas of employment and labor law, including employment standards, employee hiring, discipline and termination, human rights, and labor relations. She also provides employment and labor advice on corporate transactions.

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