Deputy fire chief accused of harassment still has his job, being paid $168K

A year and a half after an investigation was launched in to the conduct of a deputy fire chief, he remains off the job but making his $160,000 annual salary.

Firefighters work in a 'culture of fear' and are scared of retribution for speaking out, one employee says

Deputy Fire Chief Brian McLaughlin has been off the job for almost a year but is still getting paid. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

A year and a half after an investigation was launched into the conduct of a deputy fire chief, he remains off the job while collecting his $160,000 annual salary. 

City hall launched an investigation into the conduct of Deputy Fire Chief Brian McLaughlin in November 2016. 

In April 2017, McLaughlin was seen leaving a fire hall. Sources tell CBC News he hasn't been back since. 

McLaughlin is the deputy fire chief of fire prevention. He's still making more than $160,000 a year — $168,000 if you count benefits, according to the province's Sunshine List. 

Just what is going on with McLaughlin is a mystery because the matter is confidential. 

"I cannot comment and the corporation (of the city of London) cannot comment about personnel matters in the media," said Acting Deputy Fire Chief Jack Burt, who is filling in for McLaughlin. 

Burt took over the position in an acting role in July 2017. 

City hall's labour relations specialist Sandra Crawford told CBC News the same thing, referring questions to city manager Martin Hayward. 

Hayward said he couldn't comment on the situation either.

"This is about a personnel matter; I can't discuss it. That would be violating the privacy laws," said Hayward.

'Culture of fear'

The mystery surrounding McLaughlin's status in the fire department is a symptom of a 'culture of fear' there, one firefighter with more than 10 years experience said. 

"We have five employees on stress leave, three people took early retirement," said the firefighter, who didn't want to give his name for fear of retribution. "It's a toxic work environment. In fact, it's beyond toxic."

Coun. Maureen Cassidy, who chairs the city's Community and Protective Services Committee, which oversees the fire department, also said she can't comment about McLaughlin's case. 

"When these kinds of things drag on for this length of time, it's not good for either party," Cassidy said. "It's not good for the complainant, it's not good for the person who has been accused. It is in everybody's best interest  for it to be resolved as quickly as possible." 

The union that represents firefighters, the London Professional Fire Fighters Association, said it stands by its members to stop workplace harassment. 

Late Tuesday, the LPFFA released a statement saying it will establish a joint union and management committee to deal with problems at the fire department. 

The joint committee comes after discussions with Hayward. 

"This 'working group' will cooperatively develop strategies for examining, reviewing, and improving employee support structure. The LPFFA continues to be committed to preserving the integrity of the policies, and protections and maintain the focus on providing a workplace that is free of harassment, bullying, workplace violence and discrimination for all employees," the statement said. 

Attempts to reach McLaughlin were unsuccessful.