Federal court rules in PSAC’s favour, affirms workplace violence merits serious investigation

In a groundbreaking decision, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled on November 30 that employers cannot arbitrarily decide what constitutes workplace violence. 

“The decision is ground breaking for the federal public service and all federally regulated workers,” said Bob Kingston, President of the Agriculture Union. “It establishes that psychological harassment can amount to workplace violence and is one of the worst forms of harm that can be inflicted over time.”

“In the context of the recent public service employee survey where one in five workers report being harassed in the public service, this decision is very timely,” added Robyn Benson, PSAC National President. “Employees alleging workplace violence deserve to have their concerns treated fairly and respectfully.” 

The case involved a workplace violence complaint filed by Abel Akon, a CFIA poultry inspector in Saskatoon and a member of PSAC. The complaint described the harassment and humiliation he suffered from his supervisor.

After the employer dismissed the complaint, PSAC supported Akon in asserting that CFIA management had violated a regulation of the Canada Labour Code. The case landed in court after the Occupational Health and Safety Tribunal of Canada endorsed the employer’s position.

PSAC filed an application for judicial review. In November 2014, the federal court ruled that the way that Akon was treated did constitute workplace violence.

“Psychological bullying can be one of the worst forms of harm that can be inflicted on a person over time,” wrote Judge Michael Manson. This was in contrast to the government’s position that workplace violence only involves physical force.

The Federal Court of Appeal agreed with Justice Manson’s reasoning in its decision this week.

It was also significant that the court agreed that employers should not be allowed to conduct their own investigations in to workplace violence, saying this “would make a mockery of the regulatory scheme and effectively nullify the employees’ right to an impartial investigation of their complaints.”