Do employers have a positive duty to protect employee reputations?

21 Oct

Employers are now often confronted by employees who ask for help in addressing defamation linked in some way to their work responsibilities.

Employers do have a duty to provide a safe and harassment free workplace, but this is a very different concept than a duty to protect an employee’s reputation. I just stumbled across a Federal Court case issued in June in which Justice Zinn says the latter duty does not exist. He says:

I agree with the Attorney General that the Adjudicator expanded the duty of good faith beyond the parameters set out in Wallace. He created a new duty according to which an employer has a positive obligation to protect an employee’s reputation. Such a positive duty does not exist at common law, and no authority was provided by the Adjudicator in support of it. Requiring an employer to take certain positive actions in response to reports in the press which are alleged to damage the reputation of one of its employees does not fall within the Supreme Court’s determination in Wallace that an employer has an obligation “to be candid, reasonable, honest and forthright with their employees.”

More controversially, Justice Zinn suggests rather categorically that an employer can stop an employee from speaking out to clear his or her own name so it can speak to the media (about controversy caused by the employee) in its own single voice.

Canada (Attorney General) v. Tipple, 2011 FC 762 (CanLII).

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