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“This is ultimately about the costly penalty that employers pay for ignoring standard management practices.”

Tolerating Abusive Employee Costs Employer a Bundle

 

January 24, 2003

 

Ottawa—Employers who tolerate abusive employees are violating the employment contracts of other workers, says the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in a recent ruling that demonstrates the costly consequences of harassment in the workplace.

 

In Stamos v. Annuity Research & Marketing Service Ltd., Justice Dambrot found that the president of Annuity had seriously altered the tone in the office by bringing his uncle, Mr. Hammami, on board in the summer of 1999. Described as explosive and irrational, witnesses said that Hammami “appeared to have difficulty dealing with women in the workplace.” Later, said the court, two employees left, citing Mr. Hammami’s behaviour as one of the reasons they decided to quit.

 

Justice Dambrot found that Mr. Hammami started his attacks against the plaintiff, Sophia Stamos, in the autumn of 1999. Though Ms. Stamos was a veteran employee who had climbed the ladder of promotions, Hammami accused her of sabotaging the office’s computer systems and undermining him. Asking the president for assistance, Stamos was told to avoid Mr. Hammami and to keep her door locked. Later, the president bowed to Hammami’s complaints by altering Ms. Stamos’ job title, but leaving her responsibilities and pay the same. And in January 2000, Hammami replied to Stamos’s strongly worded demand to leave her office by kicking her door, the court found.

 

Ms. Stamos then tried to find a way to depart. Annuity agreed she would be paid a bonus if she stayed to train her replacement, and her work remained up to the usual standard. The court ruled, however, that Ms. Stamos could not meet these terms since Mr. Hammami, was still poisoning the environment at work by continuing to make demeaning comments about women. Unable to face Hammami, Stamos was forced to quit, said the court.

 

Every employer, said Justice Dambrot, owes a contractual duty to its employees to “treat them fairly, with civility, decency, respect, and dignity.” By failing to protect Ms. Stamos from Mr. Hammami’s harassment, the court concluded that the employer had breached this contractual duty. For the constructive dismissal, Justice Dambrot awarded Stamos 6 months’ salary, the $3000 bonus she was promised by Annuity, $3600 in stress related dental work, and $2500 in mental distress damages.

 

“By imposing corrective discipline against the harasser and ensuring the victim was protected, this case would have never gone to trial” said Jorge Talbott, a consultant and lawyer with the Ottawa management consulting firm Labour Relations Consultants. “This is ultimately about the costly penalty that employers pay for ignoring standard management practices.”

 

 

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