The whistleblower who cried wolf

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Employers are obliged to protect whistleblowers from violence and harassment so companies very often have extensive programs in place – but what happens when a worker is found to be manipulating the system?

One recent case suggests employers will receive support from the courts if they choose to fire an offending employee.

The case

University of Toronto employee, Ihor Tropak claimed co-worker Mark Ford had threatened him with a knife – but the university were unconvinced and dismissed Tropak on the basis that his allegation was entirely false.

After receiving a complaint from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the university investigated further and found a string of evidence which strongly suggested Tropak’s claims were fictitious, including:
  1. Mark Ford was on vacation the day the alleged threat took place.
  2. Tropak had a long history of filing complaints against co-workers when his own performance was called into question.
  3. Tropak’s recollection of the incident was inconsistent.
  4. After an initial complaint, Tropak was instructed to return with details but failed to do so. He then waited three weeks before raising the issue again at an unrelated meeting about his slipping performance.
Investigators considered less severe disciplinary measures but ultimately recommended that the university terminate Tropak’s employment due to the severity of the allegations and the impact his presence would have on other employees. Effectively, other workers would be in fear of Tropak lying about their own conduct.

The outcome

Despite an unblemished disciplinary record of more than 10 years and the fact that Tropak had indeed found to be the victim of bulling, the arbitrator upheld U of T’s decision to dismiss him.

“This case is important because it shows that one incident of false whistleblowing can be sufficient grounds to terminate employment,” said labour lawyer George Waggott.

“Additionally, this case highlights the need for employers to have a robust complaint and investigation system in place,” he continued. “U of T's consistency and timeliness in investigating all complaints allowed the arbitrator to dismiss CUPE's accusation that U of T did not investigate Tropak's complaints sufficiently.”

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