Ana Kraljevic Law Firm

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Workplace Bullying Can be Deadly

A study by the Workplace Bullying Institute found that 37 per cent of workers have been bullied, and within that group, 57 per cent of the bullying victims have been women. The majority of workers experience bullying from individuals in a position of authority. It is not surprising that being victimized by a bullying at the workplace can have a negative impact on your physical and mental health. Forty-five per cent of bullied workers suffer stress-related health problems such as anxiety, panic attacks, and clinical depression. Eric Donovan is a disturbing example of just how malignant workplace bullying can be.

Eric Donovan worked at Queens County Residential Services (QCRS), a not-for-profit that managed group homes and programs for intellectually challenged adults in Charlottetown, P.E.I. Donovan experienced bullying from his supervisor which became more intense after he returned to work after a medical leave due to a back injury he sustained while trying to subdue an aggressive resident. Donovan began recording the incidents of workplace bullying. In one of his last journal entries, he wrote the that the relationship with his supervisor “was so strained that I couldn’t work for her.” Donovan’s wife became increasingly concerned about his health and encouraged him to go on stress leave. Donovan, who had no prior history of any cardiac conditions, suffered a cardiac arrest while at home. He died a few days later on November 11, 2013 at the age of 47.

Donovan’s widow and his children commenced a claim against QCRS and Donovan’s immediate supervisor. In their pleadings, the Donovans asserted that workplace bullying and the failure of QCRS to intervene caused stress, anxiety, and fear which resulted in the heart attack. The allegations of workplace bullying included unfair and unwarranted criticism about his work performance, being forced to work overtime hours without his consent, the failure of the employer to provide proper support, being forced to undertake unsafe work and to perform duties that were outside the scope of his job description.

In 2016 the Workers Compensation Board of P.E.I. (WCB) initially ruled in the Donovan’s favour that on the balance of probabilities “it is more probable than not that Mr. Donovan’s death was a result of stress related to bullying and harassment in the workplace.” QCRS appealed that decision and it went before the Appeals Tribunal. The Appeals Tribunal overturned the decision of the Workers Compensation Board stating that while they agreed that workplace stress caused Donovan’s death, they could not accept that there was a specific causal link between his death and the workplace bullying. Although Donovan’s widow tendered affidavit evidence from numerous co-workers who supported her position that the supervisor was notorious for bullying the Appeals Tribunal, clinical notes from his position, and Donovan’s journal entries, the Tribunal ruled that more objective evidence was required.

Although the decision of the Appeals Tribunal was disappointing and a crushing blow to the Donovan’s, their legal battle was not for naught and there is still cause for optimism. The PEI government passed legislation in Eric Donovan’s name which provides employees with legal protections against bullying in the workplace.

As an employment lawyer, I am often stunned by stories of harassment and bullying in the workplaces and the stress that employees suffer. No employee should have to suffer needlessly to earn a pay cheque. Everyone should come to work expecting to be treated fairly and respectfully. If you have any concerns about whether your workplace is poisoned, schedule a no-obligation consultation with us. Even if you are unsure whether your situation requires workplace intervention, it doesn’t hurt to speak with a lawyer who can provide you with informative advice.

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