Fearful worker too sensitive about supervisor

Employee couldn't shake incident in hallway

An Ontario worker went overboard when he claimed his supervisor tried to intimidate him in two incidents for which the supervisor apologized, the Ontario Grievance Settlement Board has ruled.

Andes Lo worked for the Ontario Ministry of Correctional Services and Community Safety for more than 22 years in the probation and parole department. He had a good working relationship with his supervisor, who had been with the ministry for a similar amount of time.

On Aug. 28, 2014, Lo was walking along a hallway when his supervisor entered the hallway from the opposite direction. When they approached each other, they stepped the same way so they couldn’t pass. They each stepped to the other side at the same time, and this continued a few more times.

Finally, the supervisor took Lo’s hand in both of his hands is if to shake it, then placed the other hand on Lo’s elbow. He steered Lo around him and they both continued down the hallway in opposite directions without anything additional being said.

Lo felt shocked by the incident, but didn’t say anything for the rest of the day. He went on vacation the next day, but he couldn’t stop thinking about the encounter in the hallway. He felt they had a good working relationship, but he also believed the supervisor had touched him inappropriately, particularly since Lo had been seeing a physical therapist for a frozen shoulder. The supervisor was aware of his medical issue.

When Lo returned from his vacation, he tried to work normally but the hallway incident continued to bother him, even haunting him. The more he thought about it, the more he considered it an insult from the supervisor. He soon started to become afraid of the supervisor.

Lo filed a complaint under Ontario’s Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy (WDHP). However, he was informed the complaint was outside the scope of the policy. Lo then went to the ministry’s employee assistance program for counselling on how to deal with his emotions.

On Nov. 13, 2014, Lo went on sick leave for six weeks. During his leave, he wrote a letter of complaint to his supervisor’s superior which led to a meeting on Dec. 23. Lo’s supervisor was unsure about what had upset Lo, but he acknowledged Lo’s feelings and apologized. They shook hands and the meeting ended with the supervisor believing Lo had accepted his apology.

Lo returned to work six days after the meeting without saying anything else on the matter until Feb. 17, 2015, when he filed a grievance.

When the supervisor learned of the grievance two weeks later, he knocked on Lo’s office door and stepped inside after Lo opened it. He asked Lo about a matter related to procedures and Lo asked him to put it in writing. The supervisor stepped closer to Lo and Lo pushed his chair away from the desk to get farther away. Lo then told the supervisor he was afraid of him and the supervisor said, “That’s on you, not me.”

Lo felt the supervisor was trying to intimidate him and filed a second grievance, asking for a written apology from his supervisor for both incidents, three weeks’ vacation to compensate him for the trauma he experienced and the right to file another WDHP complaint in an effort to restore their previous working relationship.

The board agreed that the supervisor placed his hands on Lo in the hallway incident but found there was no evidence it was intended as an assault or attempt to intimidate Lo. It also found the supervisor did not do anything untoward in Lo’s office that should be construed as trying to intimidate him.

See Ontario (Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services) and OPSEU (Lo), Re, 2016 CarswellOnt 9435 (Ont. Grievance Settlement Bd.).

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