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Boss’s “Stern Talk”, “No Nonsense” Style did Not Cause Constructive Dismissal

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An Ontario judge has decided that an employee who resigned due to her boss’s stern talk and businesslike management style was not constructively dismissed.  This will be a welcome decision to employers.

The employee, who worked for a travel agency, went off work on a “stress leave”.  When she returned to work, she presented the owners with 17 “expectations” that she wanted met upon her return to work.  The expectations include having a “comfortable, even temperature in the office”, “even distribution of workload”, “no more derogatory comments or putdowns about my work or my personal appearance”, and “a little more relaxed atmosphere in the office”. She also complained that company uniforms were “funereal”.

Mr. Justice James Wilcox decided that the employee had not been constructively dismissed.  While the employee had complained about being “yelled” at, the plaintiff’s in-court demonstration of her boss’s “yelling” showed that it was “not particularly loud, falling well short of a yell” and was more “tone” than volume and was “more in the nature of stern talk”.

Justice Wilcox stated,

“I accept that the defendant’s is a busy office and there are pressures of deadlines and volumes to contend with.  In addition, [the boss's] personality and management style might not be to everyone’s liking.  She had expectations of the staff and made them known.  There is definitely an edge to how she comports herself, which she would describe as ‘no nonsense’.  Clearly, it would be uncomfortable to be on the wrong side of her.  On the other hand, her testimony about purchasing clothes or personal services for the staff, for example, reveals another dimension of her, as does a comment recorded by Dr. Beck after the plaintiff had returned from stress leave as follows: ‘Her boss seems to be making some effort to try and accommodate her.’”

Finally, Justice Wilcox noted that the job was inherently stressful, and the plaintiff had other non-work related problems including financial challenges and pre-existing health conditions.  The employee’s personal conclusion that she needed to quit her job was not relevant; objectively speaking, she was not constructively dismissed.

Chartrand v. R.W. Travel Limited, 2011 ONSC 2148 (CanLII)

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