An Ontario woman is issuing a stark warning about an epidemic of workplace bullying in Canada after a manager at her former job made her life "hell."
In 2009, Meredith Boucher was a ten-year employee and assistant manager at a Wal-Mart in Windsor. She had won multiple awards for her work and saw a bright future in the company, until she became the target of abuse by her former manager, Jason Pinnock, she says.
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"He was just trying to humiliate me, and he was doing it in front of everyone," Boucher told the CBC's Ioanna Roumeliotis.
Boucher claims that the bullying started after Pinnock requested that she falsify temperature logs for the frozen food section after another employee failed to keep proper records. Pinnock was allegedly worried the store would be hit with a bad audit report.
When she refused, Pinnock began tormenting her everyday at work for nearly six months.
"He'd just go off, he'd just go crazy ... Every day, everyday," Boucher says. "I knew that I hadn't done anything wrong."
The bullying took its toll on Boucher — mentally, emotionally and even physically. She lost more than 25 pounds in the six month period.
"I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep ... I wasn't myself anymore."
Legislation lacks 'teeth'
Boucher documented the incidents, even taking her records to senior management while other employees who witnessed Pinnock's behaviour confirmed her story. Despite her evidence, Boucher says Wal-Mart did "absolutely nothing."
Five months after the bullying began and at the conclusion of a two-week investigation by the company, Wal-Mart concluded her claims against Pinnock were unsubstantiated. Boucher then faced disciplinary action for making false allegations.
Soon after she quit her job, and filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart and Pinnock.
Boucher's lawyer, Myron Shulgan, says that while legislation is in place in Canada to protect against workplace bullying, victims need to prove in court that the bullying or harassment constitutes an "intentional infliction of emotional suffering." A bar, Shulgan says, that is a "big step above" simply stating in court that you were the subject of bullying.
“In my view, that legislation doesn’t have sufficient teeth to enable an employee the power to bite back at the worker who is causing that level of discomfort or distress. And employers often times are placed in a situation in which they have to chose between two employees."
'Flagrant and outrageous' abuse
An appeals judge eventually sided with Boucher, finding that Pinnock's daily abuse was "flagrant and outrageous," and that Boucher had suffered a "visible and provable illness as a result."
In the highest settle of its kind in Canada, Boucher was awarded $1.4 million in compensation in 2012 — an amount that later downgraded to $400,000.
Wal-Mart said in statements following the order that it "disagreed with the findings of the trial court in this matter."
Pinnock was not fired from his job with the company, and now manages a store in Ancaster. Wal-Mart told CBC News they have had not had any further complaints regarding his workplace behaviour.
Boucher, however, has been unable to find work since her case made headlines. She said she's handed out dozens of resumes to employers around her home in Chatham — even personally delivering them in some instances — but has had no success thus far.
Despite her troubles, Boucher has a firm message for employers regarding workplace bullying: "It needs to stop."
This week, academics and professionals are meeting in Dartmouth, N.S., for the first ever Canadian conference focused on issues surrounding workplace bullying. Part of that effort is to find ways to end the epidemic, and give victims more power to hold employers accountable for trauma suffered due to abuse while on the job.
Watch the report from the CBC's Ionna Roumeliotis above for more.