Companies could be on the hook for workplace assaults

What happens when an employee is assaulted by a supervisor? As an Ontario court just ruled, when push comes to shove, the employer may also be responsible.  Bell Mobility’s failure to investigate the case below compounded its own liability.
Richard Ayotte was a pushy boss – literally. Ayotte was seen as critical, intimidating and aggressive, thinking it would achieve results.
In 2005, Ayotte took his assertive approach too far. When one of his staff, Marta Piresferreira, allegedly failed to book a meeting, Ayotte yelled and swore at her, refused to listen to her explanation, and pushed her backwards hard enough that she hit a filing cabinet. When Piresferreira followed him to his office to protest his behaviour, Ayotte threatened her with probation.
Piresferreira later returned to work expecting an apology. Instead, she was given a Performance Improvement Plan requiring her to report to Ayotte daily or face discipline, including termination. She refused to sign, went home, and complained to the company, Bell Mobility.
The same day, Piresferreira received a letter from Bell stating it had spoken to Ayotte and that he would apologize – and then the case would be closed. No one spoke with Piresferreira to get her side of the story or to express concern for what had happened.
During the months that followed, Bell made several attempts to get Piresferreira to return to her job. Eventually, Bell just claimed she had resigned. Piresferreira was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and never returned to work.
To read more on this case, visit my Workplace Law column from this week’s Metro News.
Daniel A. Lublin is an employment lawyer with Whitten & Lublin LLP, which provides practical legal advice and advocacy for workplace issues.