Arbitrator awards damages for substance abuse counsellor’s indiscretions

On June 15th, Arbitrator Michel Picher awarded damages to three employees for the indiscretions of a substance abuse counsellor retained by an employer to provide treatment as part of its substance abuse program. Arbitrator Picher:

  • awarded $5,000 to an employee because the counsellor disclosed his cancer diagnosis to the employer without justification and because the counsellor had counselling sessions with the employee in various public places (including Tim Hortons and Home Depot);
  • awarded $2,500 to an employee because the counsellor answered a telephone call and engaged in a discussion about “sensitive matters” while sitting with another employee (also a client); and
  • awarded $1,500 to the employee who overheard the telephone call because it “would undermine [his] expectation of privacy and confidentiality in communications with [the counsellor].”

The employer argued it hired a reputable provider and was unaware the serious allegations made agains the counsellor until after the union filed a grievance. Arbitrator Picher’s response reflects the approach taken in finding employers liable for workplace harassment (see Robichaud). He said, “The employer cannot disavow or escape responsibility for the actions of its chosen agent and must bear liability for any violation, in the course of his duties, of the rights of the employees in the bargaining unit for which he was responsible.”

Halifax Employers Assn. and ILA269 (2014-L-39), Re, 2015 CarswellOnt 10497.