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20-Day Jail Sentence for Employee who Released Employer’s Confidential Information in Breach of Court Order

A former employee received a 20-day jail sentence after she flagrantly disregarded a court order by disclosing the plaintiffs’ confidential business methods and disparaging their business reputation.

Background

In July 2013, Ceridian entered into an agreement with Pendylum Inc. (“Pendylum”) to assist in the delivery of services to Ceridian’s customers. Under the terms of its agreement with Pendylum, Ceridian required that all of Pendylum’s subcontractors, including the Defendant, submit to a background check.  The Defendant refused.  As a result, Pendylum terminated the Defendant’s contract.

Following her dismissal, the Defendant embarked on an email campaign with Pendylum and Ceridian that culminated in threats and conduct akin to extortion.  In November 2013, the Defendant sent a letter to Ceridian advising that unless she received the sum of $23.2 million, she would disclose confidential information relating to the Plaintiffs’ business and their customers.  The Defendant subsequently reduced her demand to $500,000.00. On April 24, 2014, the Defendant sent another letter to Ceridian, in which she threatened to circulate a “press release” on May 12, 2014 containing the Plaintiff’s confidential information to “every press agency and HR and payroll agency across Canada and the U.S.”.  By letter dated May 8, 2014, the Defendant repeated her threat of disclosing her “press release” on May 12, 2014.

In response to the Defendant’s threats, the Plaintiffs brought an ex parte motion for, amongst other things, an interim injunction. The Court granted a five-day interim injunction prohibiting the Defendant from publishing the press release. Although the Defendant had knowledge of the court order, she disregarded the order and proceeded to issue the press release, which was widely disseminated on the internet by numerous news outlets.

The Finding of Contempt

The Court concluded that the Defendant knowingly and deliberately breached the court order by:

  1. releasing the enjoined document to press agencies;
  2. making absolutely no effort to stop the public release despite the pleas and offers of assistance from the Plaintiffs; and
  3. failing to provide the Plaintiffs with the list of persons to whom she had disclosed the confidential information.

The Court noted that if the Defendant disagreed with the court order, then the proper route would have been for her to challenge it by appeal or by another proceeding before the courts, not by ignoring its terms.

The Sentence

When considering the appropriate sentence for the Defendant’s non-compliance, the Judge commented that in his nine years as a judge he had “never encountered a more defiant or less remorseful Defendant”.  The Court found that the Defendant was deserving of significant sanction for, inter alia, the following reasons:

  • The Defendant knowingly and deliberately breached the court order, which can be evidenced by the emails that she exchanged with the Plaintiffs’ counsel in which she wrote “the court order has no effect” and “[the judge] cannot violate my right to free speech.”
  • The Defendant took no steps to retract the press release even after she was aware of the court order.
  • The Defendant continued to attempt to extort a settlement even after she had knowledge of the court order.
  • The Defendant continued to refuse to provide a list of the persons to whom the press release/confidential information had been disclosed.
  • There was uncontroverted evidence that the Plaintiffs may sustain significant harm as a result of the press release, which may have an impact on the Ceridian’s business and position in a competitive market.

Based on the foregoing, the Court found the Defendant’s breach of the order to be serious and continuing.  Moreover, the Court found no mitigating factors – the Defendant did not show remorse; she did not apologize; she made no attempt to purge the contempt; she made no effort to stop the press release when she had days to do so; and she refused to provide the names of persons to whom the confidential information was disclosed.  Furthermore, at the sentencing hearing she continued to argue that: this is nothing more than a defamation case; the order should never have been issued; the order was not breached; and that the Court and counsel have “colluded.”

The Court determined that a fine was an inappropriate sanction on the facts of this case.  The Defendant was a single mother and the costs awards to date, totaling approximately $27,500, had not been paid and the Court accepted would probably never be paid.

Typically, incarceration for civil contempt is a sanction of last resort.  However, the Court held that where the “the administration of justice has been flouted or ignored in public, imprisonment may be necessary for the court to send a clear a message that society as a whole disapproves of anyone who deliberately disobeys a court order”. The Defendant was sentenced 20 days in jail, to be served intermittently over five weekends so as not to jeopardize her employment income as the sole provider for her family.

Ceridian Canada Ltd. v. Azeezodeen, 2014 ONSC 4162 (CanLII)

20-Day Jail Sentence for Employee who Released Employer’s Confidential Information in Breach of Court Order

Top Ten Tips for the Workplace

Every now and then, it’s worth it for even the most seasoned HR professional to receive a reminder about best practices in the workplace.  Ensuring compliance with our Top Ten Tips list below will help to keep your workplace running smoothly.

1.  Ensure that all  employees sign employment agreements that clarify potentially contentious issues up front, such as entitlements on termination.

2.  If your workplace has any concerns about protecting company confidential information or intellectual property, ensure that employees also sign some form of Confidential Information and Intellectual Property Agreement (“IP Agreement”).

3.  Remember that employment agreements and IP Agreements must be signed before an employee’s start date.  If that doesn’t happen, then the employee must be provided with some sort of “consideration” for signing (eg. a signing bonus; a promotion and salary increase), and the consideration should be specifically referenced in the agreement(s).

4.  Remember that the law is ever-changing:  a good employment agreement template one year will not necessarily be legally compliant the next year.  An annual legal review of your employment agreement templates will provide a significant cost savings to your business in the long run.

5.  If it is important to your business that restrictive covenants be entered into, ensure that non-competition covenants are not used where non-solicitation and confidentiality covenants would suffice to protect the company.  In addition, ensure that the covenants are sufficiently narrowly drafted in terms of scope, duration and jurisdiction so that they can be upheld by the courts.

6.  Provide employees with at least several days to consider any employment agreements that they are being asked to sign, so that they may obtain legal advice if they wish.

7.  Ensure that your workplace is up-to-date and compliant with all of its statutory obligations.  In Ontario for example, that includes ensuring that all employees have undertaken mandatory Workers and/or Supervisors Health & Safety Awareness Training, ensuring compliance with the Access to Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), ensuring compliance with the Pay Equity Act if applicable, and ensuring that your workplace has posted all required Employment Standards Act (2000) posters and all required Occupational Health & Safety Act posters and policies.

8.  In the event of employee disability issues, consider obtaining legal advice to help you to properly assess and monitor the situation, so that both your workplace and the employee are protected and treated appropriately.

9.  In the event that an employee must be terminated, ensure that he/she is provided with reasonable notice in accordance with the applicable statute, any applicable employment agreement, or the common law (except in the case of a just cause termination).  Do not seek a release unless the employee has been offered something more than the minimum statutory entitlements, and if the employee refuses the offer, provide all minimum statutory amounts even in the absence of a release.  Ensure that benefits and vacation pay continue to accrue through the statutory notice period, and ensure that the Record of Employment is properly completed and submitted in a timely manner.

10.  Don’t hesitate to seek legal advice.  Oftentimes, the biggest problems can be made much smaller if legal counsel is contacted before action is taken.

 

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Top Ten Tips for the Workplace

Not Quite an Eye for an Eye – Judge rules that Employee’s “Kick in the Butt” Excuses Co-Worker’s Punch in the Mouth

Does a “kick in the butt” excuse a punch in the mouth? That was the question facing the Court in the recent case of Li v Furguson, 2013 CanLII 91746 (Ont. Sm. Cl. Ct.).

Peng Li and Winston Furguson worked in the shipping and receiving department of a furniture company. Li and Furguson’s coexistence was initially uneventful; however, their relationship had begun to disintegrate following allegations by Li that Furguson was stealing from the company.

On April 19, 2011, things between Li and Furguson reached a boiling point. After searching for Furguson throughout the warehouse, Li finally found his target and confronted him. What happened next was a source of disagreement between the parties, although the judge adopted the following facts. Li began speaking very closely to Furguson; so close that spit was transferred to Furguson’s face, albeit unintentionally. As Furguson tried to break free, Li kicked Furguson in the “butt” with his steel-toe boots. Furguson then wheeled and punched Li twice – one blow was inconsequential, the other was not as it resulted in Li incurring over $7,000.00 in costs for restorative dental services.

At trial, Li argued that he was entitled to damages from Furguson for the tort of battery. However, in the judge’s view, Li’s actions amounted to implied consent to the battery:

Having insulted, berated and confined a person at close quarters, then scuffled with them and kicked them I cannot see how a reasonable person could maintain that a punch or two in return was beyond their reasonable contemplation as being with the scope of what they had implicitly consented to.

 

In addition, the judge held that Li had provoked Furguson by kicking him. Although provocation was not a complete answer to Li’s claim of battery, it nonetheless operated to mitigate the damages that Li had in turn claimed.

In light of these facts, the judge dismissed Li’s claim in its entirety.

It is important to note that while Li had originally brought an action against his employer in which he made a number of claims, including one for “wrongful dismissal”, this action was discontinued before trial. Regardless, apart from the civil liability above, the altercation between Li and Furguson would certainly attract the attention of any employer’s workplace violence policy and potentially lead to discipline.

Li v Furguson, 2013 CanLII 91746 (Ont. Sm. Cl. Ct.)

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Not Quite an Eye for an Eye – Judge rules that Employee’s “Kick in the Butt” Excuses Co-Worker’s Punch in the Mouth

Human Rights claims in the Ontario courts – Now What?

Way back in 2008, the Ontario Human Rights Code was amended to permit human rights claims to be piggybacked onto wrongful dismissal actions in the Ontario courts.  Prior to that time, the only recourse for an employee with a discrimination claim was to make a complaint to the [then] Human Rights Commission.  Some 5 years later, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has recently released its very first decision in a joint wrongful dismissal/discrimination action.

The case in question was the September decision of Justice Grace in Wilson v. Solis Mexican Foods Inc.  Patricia Wilson was a 16 month employee at the time of her termination, and off work due to back problems.  The reason given for Ms. Wilson’s termination was a corporate reorganization, but the court found that reasoning “[defied] common sense” as Ms. Wilson was never told about the impending reorganization while it was taking place.  The court looked closely at the communications between Ms. Wilson’s doctor and employer, and found that the only conclusion that could be drawn was that the employer was not happy with Ms. Wilson’s ongoing back problems and absences from work, or her requests for accomodation.  Justice Grace reiterated that as long as an employee’s disability is a factor in the decision to terminate, there will be a finding of discrimination.  That is the case whether the disability is the sole factor or simply one small factor in the decision-making process.  In this case it was clear to the judge that Ms. Wilson’s back problems were a significant factor in the decision to terminate, but the result would have been the same even if her back problems were but one factor along with the reorganization.

Having determined that Ms. Wilson had been discriminated against, the court awarded her $20,000 due to the fact that she “lost the right to be free from discrimination” and experienced “victimization”, and due to the fact that the employer orchestrated her dismissal and was disingenuous both before and during the termination.  That amount was in addition to the damages received in lieu of notice of termination.

Interestingly, the court did not comment on whether or not reinstatement of employment was an option, thereby leaving that issue to another court on another day.  While employees pursuing complaints at the Human Rights Tribunal can seek reinstatement, and while the Human Rights Code appears to permit courts to make similar orders, we still have no guidance as to whether reinstatement will become a tool used by our courts.

To view the decision, click here:  http://canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2013/2013onsc5799/2013onsc5799.html

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Human Rights claims in the Ontario courts – Now What?

Natural Disasters in the Workplace – What Do I Do?

Did you know that the Ontario Ministry of Labour has a Q&A on how to deal with natural disasters in the workplace?

The Q&A, which can be found at the link listed below, covers issues such as whether or not an employee can be forced to take vacation days in the event of a natural disaster which prohibits him or her from working, or whether an employee must be paid if he or she is told to not come to work during the disaster.

Apart from basic issues covered in the Q&A, there are a number of other things to be aware of in the event of a natural disaster.  The Emergency Management Statute Law Amendment Act, 2006 (Ontario) permits the Premier and Cabinet to introduce legislation intended to govern emergencies such as natural disasters.  In addition, the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (Ontario)  provides for unpaid emergency leave for declared emergencies such as natural disasters, which is different than the standard emergency leave to deal with an ill or injured family member.

While an employer may not wish its employees to come to work in the event of a natural disaster, there may also be situations where certain employees are in fact required to work precisely because of the natural disaster, even if the workplace is under quarantine.  The ESA specifically permits certain employees to work in those situations, if their skills are required due to an emergency.  Likewise, although employees may rely on the Occupational Health & Safety Act (Ontario) (“OHSA”) to refuse to work if they are concerned that the condition of their workplace may jeopardize their health or safety, exemptions to OHSA require certain essential employees to work notwithstanding those conditions.

In addition to the above, there are a number of other pieces of provincial and federal legislation which work together to answer some of the key questions about how to deal with a natural disaster in the workplace.  Whether that disaster relates to health issues (eg. SARS, H1N1), loss of the workplace premises or something else, this combined legislation will help employers determine the appropriate response to disasters, and it is recommended that employers be proactive about understanding their obligations so that they are prepared in the event that disaster strikes.

To access the Ministry of Labour’s Q&A, click here.  For more information about all of the workplace issues involved in the event of a natural disaster, a more thorough discussion can be found here.

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Natural Disasters in the Workplace – What Do I Do?

Obligation to Post Ontario’s New Safety Poster

On October 1, 2012, Ontario Ministry of Labour inspectors began enforcing employers’ legal obligation to post the MOL’s new safety poster.

The poster, which is available in 17 languages, is called “Health and Safety at Work – Prevention Starts Here”. It may be downloaded and printed from the MOL’s website (click here). 

Section 25(1)(i) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act requires employers to “post, in the workplace, a copy of this Act and any explanatory material prepared by the Ministry, both in English and the majority language of the workplace, outlining the rights, responsibilities and duties of workers”.  The MOL states that the poster is such “explanatory material prepared by the Ministry”, and therefore it must be posted.

On its website, the MOL says, “The poster summarizes workers’ health and safety rights and responsibilities and the responsibilities of employers and supervisors. It also reminds employers that they must not take action against workers for following the act or for raising workplace health and safety concerns, and seeking enforcement of the OHSA. The poster encourages workers to get involved in health and safety and explains when and why to contact the Ministry of Labour.”

The poster also sets out a toll-free number for employees to call the MOL.

Ontario employers should ensure that the poster has been posted in their workplace.  Inspectors will look for it when they arrive at workplaces.  By posting the poster, employers send a signal to MOL inspectors that they are on keeping on top of health and safety law developments.

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Obligation to Post Ontario’s New Safety Poster

Ontario Human Rights Commission Releases Report on Mental Health and Addiction Consultation

The Ontario Human Rights Commission has released its report entitled Minds that matter: Report on the consultation on human rights, mental health and addictions

Minds that Matter reports the findings from the OHRC’s province-wide consultation on the human rights issues experienced by people with mental health disabilities or addictions, summarizing the insights gleaned from more than 1,500 individuals and organizations across Ontario that it surveyed.  The report also sets out recommended actions for government, housing providers, employers, service providers and other parties, as well as a series of OHRC commitments towards eliminating discrimination based on mental health and addictions in Ontario.

 Employers will be most interested in chapter 12, “Employment”, which sets out a number of experiences from individuals with mental health or addiction issues.  In brief, many individuals with mental health and addiction issues expressed concerns that they continue to experience discrimination in the employment hiring process and discrimination and harassment in the workplace in the course of employment.  Some of the specific experiences noted included the following:

  •  Gaps in employment history due to periods of disability may be hard to explain during the employment process and may create a barrier to being hired.
  •  Systemic barriers to employment were created by having non-criminal contact with police relating to mental health or addiction issues recorded and disclosed as part of a police record check.
  •  The rules around workplace violence risk assessments and the disclosure of personal information about employees under the Bill 168 amendments to the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act may negatively affect people with psychosocial disabilities if they are applied improperly, especially if employees with past, present or perceived mental health issues are assumed incorrectly to be a danger to other workers.

 In response to these experiences and others, the OHRC made the following recommendations to employers:

  •  All employers should develop human rights policies and procedures outlining their organization’s obligations under the Human Rights Code, including the duty to accommodate people with psychosocial disabilities to the point of undue hardship.
  •  Employers should ensure their human rights policies identify that people with mental health issues and addictions are protected under the ground of disability, and eliminate systemic barriers in the workplace (such as in their organizational culture) that may exclude or disadvantage people with mental health issues and addictions.
  •  All employers should train their employees and managers on their responsibilities under the Code regarding the human rights issues that affect people with mental health disabilities and addictions. This training should address preventing and responding to discrimination and harassment, systemic issues affecting people with psychosocial disabilities and the duty to accommodate. 

 The OHRC committed to discuss with the Ministry of Labour the impact of disclosure requirements under the OHSA on people with mental health issues, and consider how this issue could be monitored and addressed.

To read the report in its entirety, please see http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/minds-matter-report-consultation-human-rights-mental-health-and-addictions

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Ontario Human Rights Commission Releases Report on Mental Health and Addiction Consultation

Get your jab! – British Columbia Government Imposes Flu Vaccination Requirement for Health Workers

This article originally appeared on occupationalhealthandsafetylaw.com.

In hopes of driving up immunization rates among BC health care workers, the Government of British Columbia is imposing strict flu-season requirements on workers who come into contact with patients at publicly-funded health care facilities or in the community. Starting with the upcoming flu season, applicable health care workers (including health-authority staff, physicians and residents, volunteers, students, contractors and vendors) will be required to either obtain a seasonal influenza vaccine or to generally don a mask at all times during the flu season.

B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall, who recommended these measures to the Provincial Government, wrote that less than 50 percent of health care workers are immunized against influenza each year, despite being in contact with high risk populations such as seniors, pregnant women, young children, and the immuno-compromised. Citing evidence from long-term care facilities that health care worker vaccinations results in diminished illness and fewer deaths each flu season, the physician argued that “[g]etting the flu shot should be considered standard patient safety practice for all health-care workers who come into contact with patients – as important as following effective hand hygiene practices, staying home when ill or wearing a mask in the operating room.” British Columbia will be the first jurisdiction in Canada to implement such a policy.

According to media outlets, the unions representing health care workers are generally supportive of vaccinations, although the British Columbia Nurses Union has said it will not yet formally respond to the directive and has rather referred to its October 2011 Press Release on the issue where it stated that vaccinations should be promoted through education, rather than through a punitive approach by the employer.

A Government of British Columbia “Backgrounder”, cites influenza as causing the most deaths among vaccine-preventable diseases.

According to Dr. Kendall, in U.S. jurisdictions where similar requirements have been imposed, health care worker immunizations levels have reached approximately 95 percent.

The Government’s Press Release, Dr. Kendall’s Opinion Editorial and the BCNU Press Release on Influenza vaccinations can be accessed at:

http://www.gov.bc.ca/health/

http://www.newsroom.gov.bc.ca/ministries/health/factsheets/opinion-editorial-flu-shots-save-lives-protect-patients.html

https://www.bcnu.org/News/news.aspx?page=Bulletins_Oct 21, 2011

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Get your jab! – British Columbia Government Imposes Flu Vaccination Requirement for Health Workers

Reviewing Ontario’s Workplace Violence and Harassment Law

In this article, Andy Pushalik reviews employer’s duties as they relate to workplace violence and harassment in Ontario.

On June 15, 2010, Ontario’s Workplace Violence and Harassment law came into effect. With this implementation deadline looming, employers rushed to take the necessary steps to ensure their compliance.

Reprinted by permission of Carswell, a division of Thomson Reuters Canada Limited.

To read the full article as published in Legal Alert, Vol. 31, No. 2, May 2012, click here.

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Reviewing Ontario’s Workplace Violence and Harassment Law

“The Next Element to Attack is Fire”: Employee Properly Dismissed for Threatening / Intimidating Statement

This article originally appeared on www.occupationalhealthandsafetylaw.com.

An Ontario arbitrator has upheld the discharge of a “modern day prophet” who stated, “the first element to attack is water – the next is fire” after being told that she was suspended for five days.

The employer had issued the five-day suspension to the employee for carelessly packing defective product.  The employee asked to speak with the plant manager, and then made the water-fire statement.  Her statement had particular poignancy because of a serious flood at the facility approximately one year earlier.

The employer discharged the employee.  The union grieved.  At the arbitration hearing, the employee testified that “there was too much wickedness in the plant” and that the manager’s disciplinary decisions had been wicked and unreasonable.  She stated that she was a religious person and that she believed that bad things happen to wicked people.  She also said that she had no intention of starting any fires and did not intend any threat.  She refused to apologize.

Arbitrator Norman Jesin referred to Bill 168 which added workplace violence provisions to the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act.  He decided that the employer had just cause to discharge the employee.  Even if the water-fire statement was not a threat, it was made in a loud and aggressive manner and was an attempt to intimidate the plant manager into reconsidering the five-day suspension.  The arbitrator stated that, “The grievor would have me believe that she is a modern day prophet simply issuing a warning for the benefit” of the plant manager. “But I have no doubt that the comments were designed to scare [the manager] into rescinding the suspension.”

In light of the employee’s disciplinary record (a previous one-day and three-day suspension), and particularly in light of the employee’s failure to show any remorse, the arbitrator upheld the termination.

This decision is part of what appears to be a trend towards arbitrators taking a hard line on threats of violence (see a previous blog post on this issue here).

U.S.W. v. Plastipak Industries Inc., 2012 CarswellOnt 7659 (Ontario Arbitrator)

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“The Next Element to Attack is Fire”: Employee Properly Dismissed for Threatening / Intimidating Statement