If we can learn anything from recent workplace harassment headlines, it’s that companies don’t always get it right. In fact, in the case of Heidi Bassanese, a 73-year-old administrator, her employer got it very wrong.

What Happened

Bassanese worked in an administrative role at German Canadian News Co. Ltd (GCN) for nearly two decades before being wrongfully terminated.

Her colleague, Aziz Dhanani, had subjected Bassanese to abusive, harassing, and unprofessional behaviour on multiple occasions. Unfortunately, after reporting these incidents to GCN’s President, Chris Perske, no further action was taken. The abusive behaviour continued and eventually escalated to Bassanese suffering three slaps across the face. Following this conflict, Bassanese complained to the company’s managing director before filing a police report. Bassabese’s emails to her employer established the timelines of her complaints.

Finally, GCN took action, but surprisingly, the Respondent didn’t lose his job, and Bassanese was terminated instead. Bassanese believed her termination, without notice or any related compensation, was in retaliation for having filed the complaint. She filed a lawsuit against GCN for wrongful dismissal, aggravated damages, and damages for assault and battery – and won.

Bassanese received:

  • $15,000 for vicarious liability for the multiple slaps she suffered.
  • $50,000 for aggravated damages, since her employer ignored her complaint, neglected to investigate, and failed to take steps to address the inappropriate conduct.
  • 19 months of compensation in lieu of notice, and 10% of salary for employment benefits over this period, in the amount of $129,433.17.
  • In all, she was awarded $194,433.17.

What Can We Learn From This Case

  1. Don’t sweep complaints under the rug, act fast! When a complaint is received, address it immediately.
  2. In most jurisdictions, employers have an obligation to maintain a ‘safe’ workplace, which includes a ‘harassment’ free environment. Employers must act on information, received by direct report or observed, about potential harassment occurring in the workplace. It’s not okay to fail to act or try to ‘duck’ a complaint by applying strict interpretations of corporate policy and procedure for reporting. Complaints must be recognized for what they are, and be managed appropriately.
  3. Communicate your plan to the complainant and ensure he or she is protected throughout the process. Communicate appropriately to other parties and those in the workplace on a ‘need to know’ basis.
  4. Proceed as quickly as possible to conduct a fair and thorough investigation, completed by a workplace investigation expert.
  5. Unexplained delays and overly strict process requirements may cause additional harm to the employees involved, the workplace in general and, in the end, may not be viewed favourably in court.

Addressing workplace harassment and violence is a legal obligation, not a choice. It’s not always possible to prevent all workplace misconduct, but failing to investigate clear complaints and incidents will likely result in real harm to employees and employers alike.

Cenera’s Workplace Investigation Team provides you with expert, impartial, and independent management of your workplace issues from assessment to conclusion. For your Investigation inquiries, please contact us!

P: 403.290.0466
E: info@cenera.ca

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