John Tory and Disclosing Work Relationships: Lawyer on Canadian Justice


Interview Summary

Navigating workplace relationships and romances has always been difficult for employers and employees. As news broke of Toronto Mayor John Tory’s resignation and affair, many questioned the ethics and legality of dating a subordinate. What should employers implement in the workplace to prevent imbalances of power? Can employees be forced to disclose office relationships?

Mackenzie Irwin, a Toronto employment lawyer and Associate at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP joined host Christine Van Geyn on Canadian Justice to discuss workplace relationships, office policies, and more.

Interview Notes

  • Problems with workplace romances: There can be possible liabilities with office relationships. While in some cases there can be an abuse of power, it is also possible for non-consensual relationships to occur and harassment. Relationships should be consensual and with an imbalance of power, it is challenging to determine if this is the case.
  • Reason for Tory’s resignation: The optics of a relationship with a power imbalance could have motivated Tory’s resignation. Generally, a concern for many relationships in the workplace can be preferential treatment and conflicts of interest.
  • Tense work environment due to fighting exes: Sexual harassment cases can arise in the workplace although it is rare for these cases to arise after a failed relationship. Harassment typically occurs as a result of one-sided and non-consensual behaviour.
  • Fired for engaging in workplace relationships: It is difficult to outright ban workplace relationships. Employers are within their rights to implement workplace policies that prevent relationships between superiors and subordinates or expect disclosure. Employees that breach workplace policies can be terminated however it is rare for this to lead to a termination for cause. It is extremely difficult to terminate an employee for cause and employers should implement disciplinary measures before taking this extreme step.
  • Disclosing an affair to the public: Employees that are found to have engaged in a workplace affair will have to look closely at the terms of their workplace policy. An adequate workplace policy should contain privacy concerns in order to protect the information provided.
  • Disclosing a relationship without a policy: Employees should determine the risks and how to protect their own rights in the workplace if there is no policy in place. All employees have a right to a safe and harassment-free workplace. Employers should investigate all complaints brought forth and resolve the situation. Employees should ultimately take into account the rules of their workplace and be wary of engaging in relationships with a power imbalance.

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