My endless battle for workplace safety
Almost a decade later, specific workers are still being harassed in my seriously toxic former workplace. What happened to me continues today for other workers. What happened to me should never have been allowed to happen to anyone in our society.
As a woman and a permanently disabled worker, I was both regularly threatened with physical violence and psychologically harassed daily in my workplace.
The company labeled me a CL2 (2nd Class worker). I was demeaned daily by managers and co-workers alike as a disabled worker working modified work. This workplace abuse has been going on for decades now and continues to get worse, according to emails from my former co-workers.
In an attempt to end this workplace abuse, I contacted numerous company managers, the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC), the Ministry of Labour, my union, my safety committee, my company’s and my union’s human rights committee, my company’s security team, two police departments and theWorkplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).
Eventually, the WSIB finally accepted my claim for benefits due to my traumatic mental stress. After I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression by various doctors, confirmed by the WSIB’s own investigation, I was off work for close to six months.
Most harassment cases rely on witness statements, but these are unreliable since most workers don’t want to get involved, or they choose to blame the victim for the harassment in order to feel safer themselves. Since I had evidence, the WSIB was able to obtain witness statements from both my managers and my co-workers.
Worker’s Compensation in Ontario was consolidated into the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. Therefore, as a permanently injured worker working modified work who was being singled out with serious harassment, it was appropriate for the WSIB to investigate and resolve these issues.
I received no response from the WSIB. So much for “workers’ safety.”
When I filed a WSIB claim, my employer’s response was to try to fire me. My employer continued to threaten to terminate my employment while I received long-term disability benefits.
Eventually I was forced out when this abuse culminated into a death threat more than five years ago.
The company was eventually allowed by the WSIB to terminate my employment after my specialists had determined I was medically unable to make a return to work there.
How arbitration failed us
I don’t blame my former union since, despite their best efforts, they are working within a broken arbitration system that leaves them powerless against a company who willfully withholds and falsifies evidence.
Governments need to support our union’s efforts to protect all workers instead of catering to the one percent. In the past, our government has interfered in labor disputes with this company, undermining this union’s ability to protect workers’ rights.
Unions need more power to intervene to protect workers’ rights, including workers’ human rights. This means having the power to enter workplaces to investigate and gather evidence, and the opportunity to review and scrutinize all evidence presented at arbitration.
Withholding incriminating evidence from the arbitration process shouldn’t be allowed, but this happens. The arbitrator needs a means to enforce compliance to his/her rulings.
My union struggled to gain access to information, evidence, and the workplace to gather evidence on my behalf. Even when our union won at arbitration -and over many years, there have been many victories – this company simply ignored these rulings. The discrimination and harassment issues continue unabated.
Eventually, a group of workers who were also disabled and/or women formed after my departure and my complaint was added to their arbitration battle when I was forced to leave so abruptly.
These complaints were repeatedly investigated by an independent investigator hired by the company in an effort to disprove our complaints. But these reports came back in support of the workers while one report was strongly in support of workers’ harassment complaints and stated that the workplace was seriously toxic.
After I helplessly watched as workers were seriously harassed, bullied and then fired, I collected evidence of this toxic workplace situation in the form of emails, pictures and voice recordings, documenting written and verbal harassment. I felt helpless in an unsafe and toxic workplace. I knew of others who were already off work who had already been seriously assaulted.
The random attacks of physical violence that occurred over most of my ten year career were harder to prove since there were few witnesses, but I remain haunted by night terrors as a result of these events.
Another friend confided, “the union had been successful in arbitrating my friend’s sexual assault case only to return to work assigned to work next to the manager responsible. Naturally my friend freaked, and the company’s response was consistent, and was to try to fire the victim.”
How government legislation failed us
I had communicated with the CHRC on numerous occasions. I filed a CHRC complaint while my union fought this company through arbitration while I was on leave.
The CHRC couldn’t step in to assist me initially since I was a unionized employee. The CHRC made an unusual decision in my case to accept my complaint, but had to suspend acting on it since I was unionized.Government legislation prevents the CHRC from helping if a unionized company objects to their participation. My union welcomed the CHRC to work with them but the company prevented this.
My former union was being seriously undermined since this company withheld and presented doctored evidence during both the arbitration process and the CHRC process.
The company continued to undermine my former union’s efforts to resolve these issues through arbitration by withholding evidence that proved our human rights complaints.
The company’s objections to the CHRC handling my complaints of discrimination and harassment do to my gender, disability and family status remained unresolved, and only recently, the CHRC advised the company they would be stepping in to resolve these issues.
The CHRC forced this company to provide some previously withheld evidence that was more than two years old. The company continued to deny the existence of a damaging independent report that had been filed by the company’s independent investigator, a report that strongly supported workers’ complaints.
Instead the company provided a clearly questionable “clarified” report that was intended to disprove my discrimination and harassment complaints with the CHRC.
This same clarified report had previously been used as evidence by this company at my arbitration, but had been withheld from both me and my union for years.
I challenged the false evidence that was inserted into this clarified report – evidence I had supposedly provided the independent investigator. The CHRC also challenged the merit of this clarified report, which contained only witness statements from managers who clearly didn’t know me or the work I was doing.
While the CHRC continued to rule in my favour, they ultimately held no power to protect me while I was employed as a unionized employee.
Failed by a broken system
I was failed by all who were supposed to ensure my workplace was safe and healthy, including the WSIB, which accepted the company’s empty assurances that it had resolved the problems identified during the WSIB’s own investigation.
While my union was being undermined by a company that consistently withheld and doctored evidence during arbitrations, government agencies such as the WSIB could have forced this company to resolve these issues through penalties and fines. But it didn’t.
The Ministry of Labour and the WSIB were informed years ago of these workplace issues, but chose to do nothing meaningful to intervene, despite bill 168 , legislation designed to protect workers from workplace harassment.
The company made no attempts to identify the misogynists behind these threats that ended my career there. Current government legislation has prevented the CHRC from assisting me and hasn’t made my workplace safer, and neither has generic safety ads by the Ministry of Labor and the WSIB telling workers to “work safe.”
Although I have won some battles, such as proving my original WSIB claim and my CHRC case, I feel I am losing this war since what happened to me and others continues today more than a decade later.
Originally, I had filed a CHRC complaint with hopes of fixing these workplace issues, but I continued as a means of getting some justice and restitution once my lifestyle and health had been destroyed by these events. I want these issues resolved for those who remain so nobody else has to through what I have been going through.
What happened to me and others before me should never have been allowed to happen to anyone. I was luckier than most since I was supported by my co-workers. Many government agencies have insisted it’s a union’s responsibility to fix the issues in my former workplace. If so, give unions the means to fight effectively against corrupt companies.