Professional engineer with “significant safety background” who sent “abhorrent e-mails”, loses safety-retaliation case

A professional engineer who engaged in an “over the top, aggressive” argument with an established member of management, has lost his safety-retaliation case at the Ontario Labour Relations Board. Although employees who raise safety issues are entitled to protection, they must do so respectfully, the OLRB stated.

The employee was hired as the company’s Business Operations Manager. He had a strong health and safety background. One month after he started working, he joined the joint Health and Safety Committee. He got into a significant conflict with the company’s “National Manager, Occupational Health and Safety”, which included a heated e-mail exchange. In one e-mail, he wrote:

“I have been beaten up, insulted and ripped apart over safety. Never in my 16 year Manufacturing Engineering career have I encountered such resistance on safety from any manager never mind from a Safety Manager himself.”

In another e-mail, he wrote, “Do not threaten me again. Ok. One more time and it’s considered harassment!”

The Ontario Labour Relations Board held that “the applicant was mostly (although not entirely) to blame for the inappropriate tone of the email exchange. Despite being on the job for barely a month, he seemed intent on creating a confrontation with the company’s Health and Safety Manager. He was engaged in an over the top, aggressive argument with an established member of management.”

The OLRB held that the applicant had also made false allegations, yelled and swore at another company manager, and “exasperated” the company’s management.

According to the OLRB, “the normal workplace rules regarding decorum and respectfulness apply” when employees raise safety issues, and the employee had “crossed lines in this case”. The OLRB decided that the company had terminated his employment “because he acted in a disrespectful and threatening manner to other members of management and for no other reason”.

Lastly, the employee was still in his probation period when fired; was not truthful at the OLRB hearing; and had sent “abhorrent” e-mails – under an alias – to management shortly after he was fired, in which he invited one manager to a “street fight” with him and said it was “payback time”. Therefore, the OLRB did not “exercise any discretion” to substitute a lesser penalty than dismissal.

Kalac v Corrosion Service Ltd, 2014 CanLII 15044 (ON LRB)

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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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