Judge chides employer that countersued against employee for making allegedly “false” safety complaint to Ministry of Labour

Courts should discourage employers from suing employees for making safety complaints to the Ministry of Labour, an Ontario Small Claims Court deputy judge has stated.

An employee, who worked for an electrical contractor that did work in schools, complained to the MOL that electrical panels in certain schools had been “wired incorrectly”‎.  He saw it as a safety concern.  An MOL inspector investigated and found no safety concerns.

The employee was eventually fired, and he sued in the Small Claims Court for wrongful dismissal.  The employer counterclaimed against him for allegedly filing a “false” safety complaint with the Ministry of Labour, costing the employer money to deal with the fallout from the MOL investigation.

In dismissing the employer’s counterclaim, the deputy judge stated:

“Moreover, I take judicial notice of the fact that the Ministry of Labour Health and Safety Contact Centre is set up by the province to permit reporting of, among other things, unsafe working conditions. It would be the worst kind of public policy to encourage people to report unsafe working conditions and then hold them liable in tort if it is determined that the conditions do not fall below the safety standards applied by the Ministry. Reporting to a government safety authority what is honestly believed by the reporter to be unsafe working conditions should enjoy a qualified immunity from tort liability except in cases of total fabrication or perhaps completely unreasonable opinions about safety. No such immunity is required in this case to defend against the Defendant’s Claim however, because all the grounds of liability pleaded by the Defendant require that the report be false.”

‎Further, the employer had not proven any damages.  The employer’s claim for damages for hours spent by its employees dealing with the MOL after the complaint was rejected, with the deputy judge calling one piece of the employer’s evidence regarding its damages, “exaggerated, fanciful, if not downright false”.

Leverton v Roberts Onsite Inc, 2015 CanLII 80170 (ON SCSM)

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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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