Employees can be held liable for discriminatory behaviour


Deborah Howden Head ShotA recent decision shows employees can be held responsible for discriminatory behaviour in the workplace, Toronto employment lawyer Deborah Howden tells

In a ruling by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, the adjudicator ordered a man who used a racial epithet at work to pay $1,000 to an offended colleague who overheard the remark.

The employer in the case reached a separate, confidential settlement with the complainant, but she elected to proceed personally with the application against her co-worker.   

“There’s a tendency to think that where a discriminatory event happens in the workplace, that the employer is going to be solely responsible, but that’s not the case, as this decision shows,” says Howden, partner with Shibley Righton LLP's Toronto office. “Typically, you wouldn’t see individual employees pursued because the employer is the one with the deep pockets, but this decision clearly demonstrates they can be held personally liable for what they say.

“You can’t just hide behind your employer in cases where you engage in acts of discrimination,” she adds.

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