Toronto man 'terrified' after learning ex-employer didn't disclose alleged death threat text against him

A Toronto man is "terrified" after recently learning his former boss allegedly threatened to "put an axe so far into [his] head they would have to bury him with it." The threat was alleged to have been made in a text message two years ago and the man's ex-employer knew about it but never told him.

Court record referred to text allegedly from former boss threatening to kill Ben Hemming with axe

Ben Hemming doesn't understand why his former employer never told him about a text message threatening his life. (CBC)

A Toronto man is "terrified" after recently learning his former boss allegedly threatened to "put an axe so far into [his] head they would have to bury him with it." The threat was alleged to have been made in a text message two years ago, and the man's ex-employer knew about it but never told him.

Ben Hemming said it all started when he was fired from his job as an account executive with Juice Mobile, a subsidiary of Yellow Pages, in June 2016.

The 33-year-old was let go by his boss without cause as part of "normal business activities," according to the company.

Three months later, Hemming's ex-boss was fired by Yellow Pages after an external investigation found he'd engaged in a "pattern of gross misconduct in the workplace, which included bullying, harassment, discrimination, threats of physical violence and other inappropriate behaviour," according to court documents filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

Hemming's former boss later filed a wrongful dismissal suit against Yellow Pages and the company laid out its case for the firing in its statement of defence. One of the examples of "misconduct" Yellow Pages provided in the document is a text it says Hemming's ex-boss sent to another executive at the company sometime after Hemming was let go in the summer of 2016.

Here's the full text message according to the court filing:

"Ben has no idea how mean I am. I will literally give back every dollar just so he does not get a penny from him. That sound he hears in the night downstairs when he is sleeping — is me. That footstep behind him in the alley at night — it's me. I will put an axe so far into the little shits head they will have to bury him with it. Only those with the devil inside of them know the depths to which I will go. It is very dark."

'Why didn't they disclose this?'

Hemming said he only found out about the alleged threat when his lawyer discovered the court document a month ago and was "terrified to see something like that in writing."

"Why didn't they disclose this?" he told CBC Toronto. "Did they not realize the safety of my family is important?"

"I didn't think something like this was possible … where you could turn a blind eye to such an egregious death threat in writing for your financial and corporate gain."

Ben Hemming says he tried to get a peace bond against his former boss to protect himself, his wife and his son. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Hemming thinks his ex-boss's alleged message was sparked by Hemming's early attempts to collect roughly $200,000 in commissions Hemming said he was still owed when he was fired.

In September 2016, he sued for wrongful dismissal and his commissions. The case has yet to go to trial.

Yellow Pages says it took 'appropriate steps' to protect safety

In an email, a lawyer for Yellow Pages told CBC Toronto the company "ensured that appropriate steps were taken in connection with Hemming's former boss's termination to protect the safety of the people he had threatened."

Yellow Pages would not provide further details on what those "appropriate steps" were or explain why Hemming was not told about the alleged threat against him, citing the company's "ongoing litigation with Mr. Hemming."

None of the claims made in the documents have been proven in court, but Hemming said he still in shock over learning of the alleged text.

"At that time, you know, we had a newborn at home," he said. "I don't think wanting to be paid my fair share necessitates a comment like that."

The lawyer for Hemming's former boss told CBC Toronto his client would not comment for this story.

Hemming said his lawyer reached out to Yellow Pages to obtain a copy of the original message and find out more about the threat, but was told in an email that the company wasn't aware of any threats and, if there was a text message, Yellow Pages wouldn't disclose it.

Yellow Pages's lawyer told CBC Toronto the company "has not been refusing to provide information to Mr. Hemming."

Hemming said he tried last week to get a peace bond against his former boss, but it was denied because he doesn't have a copy of the original threat against him.

Employer likely not obligated to disclose threat 

According to one labour lawyer, Yellow Pages might not be legally obligated to disclose threats if they are made in cases like these. 

Ontario employers have an obligation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to protect workers from violence in the workplace, said Chantel Goldsmith, of Samfiru Tumarkin LLP. That obligation includes threats of potential violence.

But she said there could be a catch in Hemming's case.

"He might not meet the definition of worker in the legislation," said Goldsmith.

That's because Hemming had already been fired when the alleged text was sent. 

In that event, Goldsmith said Hemming's only real recourse would be to go after tort damages for "intentional infliction of mental suffering" against his former employer.


With files from Lauren Pelley

Clarifications

  • This story has been modified to remove the name of Hemming’s former boss and to further clarify the claims against him remain unproven.
    Oct 17, 2018 10:36 AM ET

About the Author

Nicole Brockbank

Associate Producer, CBC Toronto

Nicole Brockbank is a producer for CBC Toronto's Enterprise Unit. Fuelled by coffee, she digs up, researches and writes original investigative and feature stories. nicole.brockbank@cbc.ca