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Employee Awarded $500,000 for Assault and Negligent Use of Performance Improvement Plan
April 28, 2009

An Ontario court recently awarded $500,000 to a former employee of Bell Mobility due to an assault and the improper use of a performance improvement plan.

The employee worked for a manager who was prone to yelling and verbally abusing staff. Despite this, the employee had successfully worked for the manager for a number of years. That changed in 2005 when the employee approached the manager to discuss a minor problem. The manager became very upset with the employee and pushed her, knocking her back about a foot. The employee was understandably distressed, and told the manager it was not appropriate for him to push her. In response, the manager told the employee that she was being placed on a performance improvement plan. Immediately after this conversation, the manager contacted human resources to seek guidance on implementing the performance improvement plan for the employee. He did not tell human resources about the assault.

A few days later the employee informed human resources staff of the assault. An investigation was conducted and the manager was given a written warning. Although the company knew that the manager had placed the employee on the performance improvement plan immediately after the assault, it did not investigate whether there was a link between this action and the assault.

The employee commenced an action against Bell and her manager for constructive dismissal, assault and negligent infliction of mental distress. She claimed she developed post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression as a result of the incident.

The Court found that the manager’s motivation for placing the employee on the plan was to try to ward off a complaint about the assault and that this was a negligent use of the tool. The Court also found that the assault and the negligent use of the plan were a direct cause of the employee’s PTSD, anxiety and depression. On the basis of medical evidence which showed that the employee would never be able to work again, the Court awarded the employee wage loss from the date of termination until she reaches age 65. The Court also awarded damages for the assault. The total came to over $500,000.

The Court found Bell was vicariously liable for the damages, since Bell knew that the manager had imposed the performance improvement plan immediately following the assault and did not conduct a proper investigation into whether, in the circumstances, this action was appropriate.

Piresferreira v. Ayotte and Bell Mobility, 2008 CanLII 67418 (ON SCJ)