Employee’s subjective perception of harassment not sufficient to establish constructive dismissal

In the context of workplace harassment, constructive dismissal may be found where an employer fails to provide a work environment that is civil, respectful and harassment-free. The offending conduct must be of the kind that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the employer no longer intended to be bound by the terms of the employment agreement. The Alberta Court of King’s Bench recently confirmed that allegations of constructive dismissal on the basis of a hostile work environment must be supported objectively and an employee’s subjective perceptions are not enough.

Employee resigned over a “clash of personalities”

In Fakhri v Canadian Natural Resources Limited, 2023 ABKB 483, an employee began experiencing problems after being assigned a new supervisor. He resigned shortly afterwards and brought a claim alleging constructive dismissal on the basis of a hostile work environment. The employee alleged that his new supervisor would slap his hand on the desk during meetings in an intimidating and humiliating manner and stare at his computer screen in an intimidating manner. The employee also claimed that he received requests after working hours and was unfairly passed over for promotions and transfers to other departments.

The employer denied any threatening or intimidating behaviour by the employee’s supervisor and argued that the employee’s inability to advance or transfer to other positions was due to his “habitually defensive and condescending” behaviour. The employer brought an application for summary dismissal on the basis that there was no merit to the employee’s claim.

The Court dismissed the employee’s claim. The Court found that the evidence suggested nothing more than a “clash of personalities” between the employee and his supervisor. The employee’s decision to resign was based on his subjective negative interpretations of his supervisor’s conduct and the employer’s decision not to transfer or promote him, rather than any evidence that objectively established that the employer no longer intended to be bound by the terms of the employment agreement.

Implications for employers

This case confirms that employees must meet the  threshold for demonstrating constructive dismissal, which requires more than mere subjective interpretation by the employee. Allegations of harassment and whether they amount to constructive dismissal will be assessed on an objective basis, taking all evidence into consideration. Where an employee’s claim proceeds to a summary dismissal application, they must put their best foot forward and present sufficient evidence to support their claim.

Our labour and employment team is available to assist employers navigate constructive dismissal actions and terminations. Contact us to learn how we can help.

Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.