Canadian Employment Law Today

October 01, 2014

Focuses on human resources law from a business perspective, featuring news and cases from the courts, in-depth articles on legal trends and insights from top employment lawyers across Canada.

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Canadian Employment Law Today | 3 Canadian HR Reporter, a Thomson Reuters business 2014 Cases and Trends Revelation of feelings leads to messy situation at work Nurse revealed romantic feelings towards supervisor but couldn't accept rejection when it wasn't mutual By JEffrEy r. SmiTh An OnTARIO EmplOyEE's harass- ment of a supervisor after her romantic feelings were rejected was just cause for dis- missal, an arbitrator has ruled. e employee was a registered psychiatric nurse employed with the Fraser Health Au- thority in British Columbia since May 2004. In April 2010, she was appointed patient care co-ordinator at Ridge Meadows Hospi- tal in Maple Ridge, B.C. e nurse worked closely with her su- pervisor at Ridge Meadows over several years and they became friendly, with the supervisor also becoming acquainted with the nurse's mother. e nurse developed ro- mantic feelings for him and felt she wouldn't be able to continue working with him for- ever. She began looking for another position with the Fraser Health Authority and decid- ed to write her supervisor a letter expressing her "true feelings." e nurse gave the letter to her supervi- sor on Feb. 23, 2011. e letter stated she was "constantly" thinking about him and, with her taking a new job, she had "nothing to lose" by telling him. She stressed that she wanted to be on good terms with him, re- gardless of his feelings. When the supervisor read the letter, he was shocked and disturbed, as he had only had a casual relationship with her with no hint of romance. He didn't share her feelings and was concerned about potential allega- tions of sexual harassment, so he showed the letter to his manager and the HR depart- ment. He was told to tell the nurse imme- diately that he had no interest in a relation- ship outside of work and set boundaries for future contact with her — while at the same time showing her compassion and saving her from embarrassment. e manager asked him if they had a personal relationship and the supervisor replied in the negative. e next day, Feb. 24, the nurse and the supervisor met to discuss the letter. e supervisor accused the nurse of sexual ha- rassment, playing games and trying to force him into a relationship. e nurse claimed he said he was confused, which she thought referred to his feelings. e supervisor testi- fied he asked the nurse if he had done any- thing to encourage her feelings and she said no. She wasn't pleased that he went to his manager before speaking to her about it, but they agreed to not have contact with each other outside of work. Employee unable to let things go In the following weeks, the nurse sent the su- pervisor several emails that were emotional and indicated she was getting concerned. When the emails became increasingly an- gry, the supervisor asked her not to send any more. He was also concerned rumours were spreading among other employees about a relationship between them. In mid-March 2011, the supervisor in- formed a hospital director about the situa- tion. e director felt the nurse needed to move to a position in a different location because the situation was getting worse. Around the same time, the nurse spoke to the program director for psychiatry and told him she and the supervisor were "an item, but nobody knows and that's why I need to leave here." At this point in time, the nurse was also working part-time at Surrey Memorial Hos- pital in Surrey, B.C., and her manager there received complaints from employees that the nurse didn't display compassion for others. e manager talked to one of the nurse's su- periors and learned about the issues at Ridge Meadows. e manager called the nurse, who advised she and her supervisor had "personal feelings for each other," but quickly denied any personal relationship. e nurse then said derogatory and insulting statements about the supervisor and said working together was difficult. Later that month, the program director for psychiatry ran into the nurse at a re- tirement function. e nurse told him she wasn't in a relationship with her supervi- sor and he should relay that information to others in management. e director felt it wasn't an appropriate time or place for such a discussion. An HR consultant for Fraser Health Au- thority was monitoring the situation and had been told by the supervisor there was no personal relationship. She recommend- ed a meeting with the nurse to ensure she stopped her behaviour, which was sched- uled for March 28. At the meeting, the nurse was told there could be disciplinary action but it was hoped it wouldn't be necessary. She was given an option to resign from her position at Ridge Meadows hospital and she could work at another hospital, such as the one where she was already working part-time. However, the nurse began insulting the supervisor and said he couldn't have said he didn't want a relationship. She kept repeat- ing that he was confused and interrupting the managers. e HR consultant told the nurse that her behaviour was harassing and could lead to discipline, but it became ap- parent the nurse would not acknowledge any wrongdoing. Management told the nurse if she ended her pursuit of the supervisor and didn't speak of it to anyone else, they would find another job for her so she could move on. However, following the meeting, the nurse went on a tirade to other employees, calling the supervisor "a backstabber" and saying he was "a liar and cannot be trusted." e health authority felt the nurse's be- haviour was an attempt to undermine man- agement and her supervisor in particular. It interviewed several employees who heard the nurse's comments about the supervisor. Another meeting was scheduled for April 5, at which the health authority intended to work out a settlement which would official- ly end her employment at the hospital and move her to another position elsewhere. However, the nurse provided a statement saying the supervisor wasn't clear in telling her there would be no relationship, despite the fact she had "consistently asked for a clear answer." e nurse also accused the su- pervisor of managing by intimidation, along with other accusations. She later named other employees who had been "victimized" by the supervisor, though with no evidence. On April 14, the health authority termi- nated the nurse's employment for being "in- solent, insubordinate and disrespectful" to her supervisor and breaching its respectful workplace policy, along with misrepresent- ing her relationship with him and harming his reputation in the psychiatric communi- ty. e health authority indicated she broke the trust and confidence necessary for em- ployment in its organization. Consequences of letter predictable: Arbitrator e arbitrator noted that the nurse was "a mature woman who should have known that such a personal letter delivered at work would be a workplace time bomb from the start, rather than a personal relationship is- sue to be privately discussed." With no indi- sCornEd on page 6 »

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