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Communicate or Litigate: The Value of Strong Workplace Relationships

You’ve probably read articles, maybe entire books, about building strong relationships with family and friends. But have you ever considered the value of a positive relationship with your employer?

If you work full-time, you spend as many or more of your waking hours at work as you do with your family and friends. Most of us see work as a fundamental aspect of ourselves, and work, when it’s good, can give meaning and purpose to our lives.

Of course, this also means that when things go off the rails at work, the crash can be ugly. For example, Mr. Suen was the father of a four-month-old baby when his employer, Mr. Hope, asked him to work on a project two provinces away. When he refused, Mr. Suen was fired and then claimed that the company had contravened human rights legislation by failing to accommodate his status as a parent. His claim was unsuccessful, as travel was found to be part of his job. More importantly for this discussion, the Human Rights Tribunal commented:

Mr. Suen testified that a simple weekend home every couple of weeks would have sufficed. Ironically, accepting Mr. Hope’s evidence that the Manitoba Assignment would have been subject to both rotations home and certain budgetary and travel discretion, this would have readily been available. In short, if I accept in full the evidence of both Mr. Suen and Mr. Hope, their evidence converges to reveal that a simple, open conversation would have saved a significant amount of time, energy and resources for both sides.

If Mr. Suen and his employer had been on good terms, with an open and collaborative mindset, a resolution was possible if they had taken the time to sit down and talk about the challenge before them. The alternative turned out to be four years of expensive litigation.

Building and maintaining a strong relationship with your employer is an investment that pays off when challenges arise. Good communication – respectful and honest – is the foundation of all strong relationships, so there’s benefit in building and maintaining good communication habits at work, just as much as there is at home.  

Elizabeth Traynor
Partner, Labour & Employment


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