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Mar 2, 2010

The parade of misbehaving employers continues

    

By Jeffrey R. Smith (jeffrey.r.smith@thomsonreuters.com)

There is no shortage of court rulings where employers have been nailed for treating employees poorly.

Sometimes it’s just the result of negligence and sometimes the employer’s conduct has an element of maliciousness. Everyone knows — or ought to know — when employees feel mistreated or discriminated against in our society, employers are probably going to face consequences, legal and possibly otherwise.

And yet, the parade of misbehavior by employers continues. Some cases just make you scratch your head and wonder: “How could the employer act this way? And did it really think it could get away with it?”

Here’s one recent example: A Toronto trucking firm was ordered to pay more than $30,000 to a dispatcher as compensation for the bigoted behavior of the company’s owner. Lynx Trucking employed several people of South Asian decent, including dispatcher Cheryl Khan.

Khan filed a human rights complaint, claiming racial discrimination by the company’s owner, Lynn Tompkins.

The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal heard Tompkins regularly made offensive racially-based insults and taunts towards Khan and other employees of South Asian background, including comments such as “stupid immigrant” and saying they were “ignorant.” Tompkins also made rude comments and expressed a desire for “good white people” when employees asked for the Hindu holiday Diwali off.

Human resources professionals know there are many legal protections in Canada for employees and employers can face serious penalties for mistreatment of employees — wrongful dismissal, constructive dismissal and bad-faith damages, Charter of Rights and Freedoms violations and employment standards violations are a few examples. Even if Lynx Trucking is a small employer without a dedicated HR department, any reasonable person would know Tompkins’ treatment of his employees was unacceptable, not just in the context of employment, but in normal society.

It would seem to be common sense that an employer which treated its employees in this manner would be called on it at some point. But the circumstances at Lynx Trucking show there are still employers out there who still don’t seem to get it.

Jeffrey R. Smith is the editor of Canadian Employment Law Today, a biweekly newsletter that looks at workplace law from a business perspective. For more information, visit www.employmentlawtoday.com.

    
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