Throughout this pandemic, employers and employees alike have been challenged to adapt and find creative ways to meet workplace demands.
For some individuals, this shift may have heightened already existing issues in the workplace. Employers and employees must be able to identify when heightened anxiety, frustration and challenges within a team amounts to a toxic workplace environment, and how to respond to this type of situation.
Identifying a Toxic Work Environment
Identifying and addressing a toxic work environment can be increasingly difficult in our current climate. Examples of situations giving rise to a toxic work environment include employers:
- Ignoring complaints;
- Failing take steps to correct an employee’s inappropriate conduct;
- Failing to investigate employees’ complaints made under the Ontario Human Rights Code;
- Demonstrating palpable insensitivity in dealing with employees;
- Subjecting an employee to undue pressure; and,
- Humiliating an employee.
These are all indicators that the workplace may be toxic, which could give rise to numerous legal options, including the ones explored below.
Legal Considerations of a Toxic Workplace
Depending on the circumstances, a toxic workplace may give rise to a claim for constructive dismissal. Typically, employees have a duty to mitigate their damages, meaning that they have a duty to find comparable work following a dismissal. However, if a toxic work environment exists, it may not be reasonable to expect the employee to continue working for the employer during the notice period. You should always seek legal advice prior to claiming constructive dismissal based on a toxic workplace.
A toxic workplace finding may also entitle an employee to bad faith damages. In Bassanese v German Canadian News Company Limited et al., the court awarded $50,000 in bad faith damages. In that case, the employer ignored the plaintiff’s complaint, neglected to investigate the complaint or take steps to address a colleague’s inappropriate conduct towards the plaintiff. This led to heightened frustration and anxiety for the employee in question, and ultimately a toxic workplace finding.
Our current circumstances have forced workplaces to find innovative ways to adapt, such as working remotely, or working while implementing social distancing measures. This does not eliminate the potential for a toxic workplace to either exist or be perpetuated. If you have any questions related to toxic work environments, do not hesitate to reach out to one of our experienced employment lawyers to develop a plan going forward.