In the recent case of Hucsko v. A.O. Smith Enterprises Limited, 2021 ONCA 728, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld an employer’s decision to terminate an long-term senior employee who had sexually harassed a female co-worker and subsequently refused to apologize for his actions.
A female Project Manager who worked with Hucsko submitted a formal complaint alleging that he had made several inappropriate sexual remarks. After a thorough investigation, the Company concluded that Hucsko had made the comments and that it was sexual harassment. The Company gave Hucsko a final warning and required him to undertake sensitivity training and give a direct apology. Hucsko agreed to the training but refused to apologize, stating that he would not be admitting any wrongdoing. The Company terminated Hucsko for just cause on the basis that there had been an irreparable breakdown of the employment relationship.
The Ontario Court of Appeal found that the Company had sufficient cause to terminate Hucsko. Following Huscko’s refusal to apologize, the Court agreed there had been a complete breakdown of the employment relationship. Hucsko was either unwilling or unable to understand their workplace Harassment Policy and take it seriously and unwilling to accept the discipline imposed on him because of his misconduct.
This decision shows that the courts are willing to support terminations for cause for sexual harassment, even in cases where the harassment is in the form of sexual remarks. The decision is a timely reminder of the importance of having workplace harassment policies, conducting thorough investigations, and following through with disciplinary action, including termination where warranted. We note that most Canadian provinces require employers to have written bullying and harassment policies and to train managers and employees on them.
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