In Gillam v. Waschuk Pipe Line Construction Ltd. the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench found that the employer was justified in terminating the employee for cause due to the employee’s conduct in creating a hostile work environment and sexually harassing female staff.
The employee, Robert Gillam, was a supervisor for the employer, Waschuk Pipe Line Construction Ltd., supervising various co-workers at the employer’s work camp where they were laying pipeline from Fort McMurray to a location close to Fort Saskatchewan. The employer employed three female employees at the same work camp, one of who was Lorrill Waschuk, the office manager for the work camp, as well as part owner of the employer and the daughter of the CEO of the employer. Mr. Gillam’s son also worked at the same work camp as Mr. Gillam.
While performing his work duties for the employer, Mr. Gillam believed that his son was drinking excessively, thereby affecting his son’s ability to work and to keep his job. Additionally, Mr. Gillam believed that his son was drinking with Ms. Waschuk and spending time with another female co-worker, both of which he believed was causing his son to experience marital problems.
Believing that the female co-workers were responsible for his son’s personal and professional issues, Mr. Gillam, when speaking to the employees he supervised, referred to these three female co-workers using foul language, and further alleged that one of his other sons, who had previously worked for the employer, received a sexually transmitted disease from one of the female co-workers.
In January of 2008, Ms. Waschuk complained about Mr. Gillam’s conduct to the superintendant of the work camp, as well as her father, who was the CEO of the employer. The CEO requested that the superintendant speak to Mr. Gillam about his harassing conduct and request that Mr. Gillam immediately discontinue such conduct. It is unknown as to whether the superintendant actually spoke to Mr. Gillam as instructed by the CEO.
In March and April of 2008, the CEO discovered that Mr. Gillam was continuing to call the female co-workers rude names. In response to this, the CEO contacted Mr. Gillam and informed him that his behaviour was unacceptable and that he must stop using such language in reference to the female co-workers, otherwise he would be terminated.
Unfortunately, on July 3, 2008, Mr. Gillam was again disrespectful to Ms. Waschuk and after raising the issue of one of his son’s receiving a sexually transmitted disease from one of the three female co-workers. The CEO was informed of Mr. Gillam’s further misconduct in mid-July, despite Mr. Gillam being warned about such conduct and the CEO responded by terminating Mr. Gillam’s employment for cause. Mr. Gillam subsequently brought an action for wrongful dismissal.
Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench’s Decision
In defence to Mr. Gillam’s allegation of wrongful dismissal, the employer argued that Mr. Gillam’s inappropriate conduct justified a cause termination without notice.
After reviewing the facts of the case and determining that Mr. Gillam’s statements amounted to sexual harassment, Mr. Gillam was properly warned that his conducted was not acceptable, and that the employer did not condone Mr. Gillam’s actions, the Court established that the employer was justified in terminating Mr. Gillam’s employment for cause.
In reaching this conclusion the Court stated the following,
“I find that [the employer] had just cause to dismiss Mr. Gillam. His actions on the CPX project showed a complete disregard for his responsibilities as a supervisor over a significant period of time. He created a hostile work environment. He sexually harassed the female staff. He personally harassed Ms. Waschuk. The fact that one of the targets of his malcontent was the daughter of the CEO in a privately owned company, and in fact a co-owner of the company would indicate Mr. Gillam’s intention to abandon his intention to remain part of the employment relationship. This reflected a complete lack of judgment on his part.”
Points of Interest
It is well known that it can be difficult for an employer to establish that they were justified in terminating an employee for cause. There must be clear evidence in the context being considered that the employee has undermined the entire employment relationship such that the employment contract is considered to have been fundamentally breached. Such conduct by the employee must be either fundamentally inconsistent with the employee’s obligations to the employer, or substantially prejudicial to the employer’s business such that the employee’s conduct causes damage to the employer’s business, reputation, or causes harm to the employer’s customers.
In the above matter, it is worth noting that despite the warnings that the employee received and the content of what he said about the female co-workers, the Court may have placed a substantial amount of emphasis on the employee’s position of supervisor, and the corresponding duties he had, in concluding that the employee’s actions justified his termination for cause. Since Mr. Gillam was responsible for supervising many co-workers, his inappropriate actions may be more heavily scrutinized and less flexibility granted in determining whether his actions were sufficient to justify termination for cause.
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