In 2010, legislation to protect workers from violence and harassment on the job in Ontario passed came into effect. Referred to as Ontario’s Bill 168, it amended the Occupational Health and Safety Act, in June 2010. The legislation imposes a number of requirements on an employer to address workplace violence and harassment, including risk assessments, preparing policies on harassment and violence, providing information and training to employees, and investigating complaints. The Ministry of Labour’s health and safety inspectors are charged with enforcing these provisions. but according to Jacqueline Power, a University of Windsor assistant professor of business management who specializes in workplace bullying, enforcement has not occurred, so it has fallen to court cases to lay out the law.
A case decided on October 10, 2012 has taken a significant step in this direction: a jury awarded $1.46-million to a former Walmart assistant manager in Windsor for mistreatment in the workplace by a boss. The assistant manager had filed a lawsuit against Walmart, where she had worked for 10 years, after she felt forced out of the company in November 2009. She claimed intentional infliction of mental suffering, sexual harassment and discrimination, and assault by an assistant manager who punched her in the arm two days in a row and was subsequently fired.
The jury found that she suffered daily abuse from the manager of the Walmart where she worked, who would berate her with profane and insulting language over six months, often in front of others. The jury of three men and three women gave her nothing for sexual harassment and discrimination, but awarded her the following: from Walmart, $200,000 for intentional infliction of mental suffering, $1 million for punitive damages, and $10,000 for assault; and from her former supervisor, $100,000 for intentional infliction of mental suffering, and $150,000 for punitive damages.
The award is reported as the highest such award in Canadian history. Power said even if the award is reduced on appeal, other companies will take notice. “This is the big case and it’s going to change the way Canadians see workplace bullying, absolutely,” she stated. “It’s similar to what sexual harassment was 20 years ago. People just had to put up with sexual harassment in the workplace. Then they started having large legal judgments and human resources departments began to take it seriously.”
Workplace bullying lawsuits in countries such as Canada appear to be a growing trend as the country and its provinces enact laws to protect workers from harassment, bullying, and violence. This lawsuit is the first of four against Walmart Canada, all by female assistant managers seeking at least $500,000 in damages, all from the same store, all alleging the same thing in 2009 and 2010: abusive treatment by a manager.