Legal Remedies If a Boss Explodes On You
When your supervisor loses it, look for behaviours or statements that violate the law (or your human rights).
By Mark Swartz
Some bosses can be tyrants. They shout at employees and treat them like slaves. There are also sadistic bosses. Humiliating their staff gives them genuine pleasure. And woe to the worker who’s supervised by an anger-management time bomb.
None of this should be tolerated at work. Yet these behaviours still arise.
At some point a line gets crossed: your boss explodes on you. Whether this involves screaming, physical violence, threats or blackmail, you have legal rights that can protect you in the aftermath.
Not All Eruptions Are Actionable
One-time incidents, where your supervisor goes ballistic on you, can be deeply disturbing. You’re left feeling rattled and belittled. Vulnerable and violated.
But can such an event be reported to the police or a Human Rights Tribunal? Not unless they break the law or infringe on your rights.
Below are some examples of blowouts that go beyond surviving a disagreement with your boss. Here’s how you might address them on top of reporting to senior management or your Human Resources department.
Insults or Harassment That Qualify As Discrimination
A bellowing boss on an uncontrolled rant can be frightening. Keep your cool, retreat to a safe space if possible, and record the incident.
Canada’s Human Rights Act protects you from harassment based on your race, colour, gender, religion, ancestry, where you were born, age, physical or mental disability, family status, source of income or sexual orientation.
If the yelling or bullying you experience is based on one of these protected grounds, you may make a complaint against your employer to your provincial Human Rights Tribunal under the Act.
Insisting That You Do Something Unsafe
“Climb up to that roof and paint the troughs or your fired!” Particularly with summer students and people employed in risky occupations, balking at a dangerous task can raise the supervisor’s ire.
It is your legal right to refuse to do work that you think will threaten your health and safety, or that of a co-worker, if the risk is beyond what is normal for your job. You’ll have a case to not lose Employment Insurance benefits for resigning or if they terminate you of if you resign under those circumstances.
Your boss uses their power advantage to try and control or humiliate you. If this happens repeatedly over time, yet there’s no single incident where they explode, you still may have a legal case against them.
Should your boss’s intimidation put your personal health (physical or psychological) or safety in danger, leaving you with no choice but to resign, you may be able to claim constructive dismissal.
Criminal Offence 1: Extortion
“If you don’t do what I ask, I’ll tell everyone that you…”
Blackmail. The boss loses it and thinks they can force you to comply – to whatever it is they might be demanding. They say they’ll reveal something private that could damage your reputation. Or they threaten you with a law suit.
Blackmailing someone is a criminal offence in Canada. It’s defined as extortion under section 346 in the Criminal Code. The extorter “uses threats, accusations, menace or violence to induce the other person to do anything or cause anything to be done.”
Criminal Offence 2: Physical Violence
Making menacing gestures. Getting right up in your face. Possibly hurling an object or touching you uninvitedly.
Hitting, pushing, slapping…the list goes on, and might get worse.
Any of these unacceptable actions changes the nature of your working relationship. They could signal a tendency that might devolve into something even worse in the future. Possibly they are workplace violence criminal offences.
If you report them with appropriate documentation (witnesses are helpful but not necessarily required), you could resign under duress, sue the employer and boss, and have a reason to collect Employment Insurance while job searching.
Another aspect to consider is this. If you report a related incident to the proper internal authorities at work, produce evidence, yet they don’t adequately redress the problem, you can sue in the courts for a poisoned workplace remedy. Employers have a duty to protect their employers from both physical and psychological harm.
Note: This is just an informative article. Please consult an employment lawyer for any legal advice.