'I shouldn't be telling you this, but ...': loose-lipped WorkSafeBC employee fights firing

Manager at worker's compensation organisation claimed she was wrongfully dismissed after 36 years

Court case over manager's dismissal reveals firings and threats of going to media at WorksafeBC

According to the B.C. Supreme Court judgment, Taranjeet Manak knew she should not be sharing such confidential information with her subordinates, hence her frequent use of the introductory phrase, 'I shouldn't be telling you this, but ...'. (PhotoMediaGroup/Shutterstock)

Her WorkSafeBC subordinates claimed Taranjeet Manak often began sentences with the phrase "I shouldn't be telling you this, but ..."

According to a recent B.C. Supreme Court judgment, the long serving manager's superiors agreed. Manak was fired in 2011 after she was found to have breached the organization's confidentiality standards.

In a decision that provides a behind-the-scenes window into the stresses of life at WorkSafeBC, Justice Ward Branch rejected Manak's claim for wrongful dismissal.

"If the plaintiff needed support, that should have been sought from people at her managerial level or above," Branch wrote.

"She knew she should not be sharing such confidential information with her subordinates, hence her frequent use of the introductory phrase, 'I shouldn't be telling you this, but ...'"

'A running joke'

Although Manak was dismissed with cause, she was given the option of retiring with a pension and four months salary in exchange for signing a release that she understood she agreed not to sue.

If she had been dismissed without cause she would have been paid 18 months salary. In court, Manak was looking not only for a declaration of wrongful dismissal, but to have the release declared unenforceable.

According to the decision, the 61-year-old was employed by WorkSafeBC for the entirety of her 36-year working life.

She was a client services manager in the hearing loss section at the time of her dismissal. But she also had responsibility for claims made by staff under the organization's own legislation.

According to the B.C. Supreme Court decision, Taranjeet Manak was also responsible for staff claims made under WorkSafeBC's own legislation. (CBC)

One of two subordinates called as witnesses claimed Manak "shared information about staff claims casually" and said "it was a running joke in the department that employees should not get injured at work because everyone would know about their injury."

The same witness claimed Manak told her about a colleague — JV — who was going to be fired for accessing confidential claim files — pertaining to both her father and her boyfriend — up to 150 times.

"She testified how upsetting it was when she ran into JV at the cafeteria later that day, knowing that JV was about to lose her job," the ruling says.

Uncomfortable knowledge

Another witness told a similar story about Manak revealing that another WorkSafeBC colleague — JN — was about to be fired for excessive internet use.

"She recalled watching JN being called away to her termination meeting, coming back to collect her things, and crying. [The witness] wanted to go to JN to give her some comfort, but she knew she could not do so without acknowledging that she knew what was going on."

Both witnesses also testified to an incident in which Manak disclosed that a member of the staff was threatening to go to the media with his story because his claim had been denied.

Things came to a head when one of the witnesses confided in a friend who happened to be a manager in another section.

He reported the situation to Manak's supervisor, sparking the investigation that culminated in her termination.

'Simply too broken'

Manak argued that a violation of the code shouldn't automatically lead to termination and that the breaches were relatively minor.

She also argued that no actual harm came from the disclosures and claimed she was a relatively new manager at the time with no history of discipline.

She said she was under stress and that the department was undergoing difficult changes at the time.

But Branch rejected those arguments.

"No individual incident may have been sufficient to justify dismissal. But the cumulative effect of all of the incidents found to have occurred suggests a manager out of her depth, reacting to her stress by making an array of improper disclosures, in a misguided effort to obtain support from, or simply to be liked by, her subordinates," the judge's ruling states.

"The defendant did consider the suitability of alternative measures, but reasonably concluded that the trust relationship was simply too broken."

Branch also ruled that the release Manak signed at the time she agreed to retire was enforceable.

Manak's lawyer did not respond to a call.

About the Author

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.