OHS Canada Magazine

Court blasts health and safety manager for hiding her injury, WSIB claim from employer

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January 18, 2024
By Todd Humber

Compliance & Enforcement ontario Slips WSIB

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The former health, safety and training manager for a building supply company in Ontario has lost a wrongful dismissal lawsuit she filed after being fired for cause in the wake of a workplace injury she allegedly suffered.

Shari Lagala had been in her role at Patene Building Supplies for more than 13 years. She was let go in the wake of her management and non-reporting of a workers’ compensation claim she made on her own behalf to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). Lagala allegedly fell in the parking lot of the company’s Brantford, Ont., location on March 28, 2019 because of ice — though the employer presented evidence about the weather on that date which showed ice was unlikely.

Despite her role and expertise in health and safety, Lagala failed to report the incident to her supervisors until months later, a delay that went against the grain of standard workplace safety protocols — and those of her employer. In the interim, she initiated and managed her own WSIB claim and received benefits for physiotherapy.

In October 2019, the WSIB asked Lagala to have her supervisor sign off on the employer’s claim form. She sought that sign-off at the end of October, about one month after she included the accident on a monthly report of health and safety incidents she provided to management. That led to an internal investigation that involved Patene’s president, Patrick George.

The investigation raised significant concerns regarding Lagala’s management of the incident, particularly her delayed reporting and the potential manipulation of evidence related to the accident. These actions were found to be in direct violation of Patene’s established safety policies and procedures, which Lagala herself was responsible for enforcing.


George, having lost trust in Lagala, made the decision to terminate her employment for cause on Dec. 18, 2019. She was 53 at the time with an annual salary of $72,500 along with benefits including health and dental benefits, a company cellphone, a company car and an annual bonus. Subsequently, Lagala sued for wrongful dismissal.

The court’s ruling

Justice Lemay of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice emphasized the discrepancies in Lagala’s accounts and her failure to adhere to the very policies she was entrusted to uphold. He highlighted the integral role of health and safety managers in setting an example and maintaining the integrity of safety protocols.

The court noted that Lagala said she was too embarrassed to report the injury to her supervisors. She testified that, at the time the incident happened, that she contacted Dale Cormier, the traffic manager at the Brantford branch, to complain about the incident and express “my frustration that the potholes are not getting filled.”

But Cormier testified he never had any such discussion with Lagala, and the first time he heard about any accident was in October 2019 when she called him and asked him to write an email about it. “The plaintiff dictated what she wanted the email to say,” the court said.

Counsel for the plaintiff suggested that Cormier was lying about the incident to protect his job, but the court rejected that suggestion. It found Lagala to be untruthful with both George and the court about reporting the incident to Cormier in March 2019 and that she attempted to use her relationship with Cormier — they were childhood friends — to conceal this lie.

“This is very significant misconduct that might, on its own, be sufficient to support (Patene’s) decision to terminate (her) employment for cause,” the court said.

It also pointed out that her decision not to report that accident, in any way, until after the WSIB had allowed her claim was a “breach of the employer’s policies on accident reporting.”

Conflict of interest

The court also noted Lagala went to the emergency department in August 2019 to seek medical treatment that was, at least arguably, related to the accident.

Under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (WSIA) that triggered the notification requirement and the accident had to be reported by the employer within three days. By not reporting it until weeks later, she “put her employer at risk of being found in violation of section 21 of the WSIA,” the court said. The sanctions that could have flowed from her failure to report the alleged accident in a timely way are “significant,” it said.

It was also part of her job to protect her employer from these penalties by ensuring accidents were reported promptly, it noted.

“These concerns also illustrate the fact that (Lagala’s) decision to report her own accident on behalf of the employer put her in a conflict of interest,” it said.

“She would be interested in obtaining benefits from the claim, while the Defendant would want a full investigation into the claim, particularly given the inconsistencies in the Plaintiff’s reporting.  This is a classic conflict of interest that any manager who works in the human resources field should have been able to see,” it said.

The fact she was prepared to put herself into this conflict, while denying it was a conflict, is a “significant” reason why Pantene Building Supplies was “correct” to have lost confidence in her, the court said.

Meeting with president

But perhaps the most damning words from the court came in relation to a meeting between Lagala and management once her WSIB claim came to his attention.

During an interview conducted on Nov. 1, 2019, where George was also present, Lagala failed to provide the complete WSIB file, notably omitting a decision letter from the WSIB which she had received. This omission was perceived by the court as an attempt by Lagala to conceal information from her employer.

Justice Lemay highlighted that Lagala’s conduct during this incident was part of a pattern rather than a singular lapse in judgment.

“All of this misconduct must be considered in light of the fact that (she) was directly responsible for the administration of the Defendant’s Health and Safety policies,” it said. “Put simply, an employer cannot be expected to employ a Health and Safety manager who does not comply with health and safety policies when those policies affect her, and then is dishonest with her employer about what happened after the fact.”

The court dismissed her claim and asked the parties to agree on legal costs, but said it was available to review submissions if they could not come to agreement. Typically, winning parties in court cases are entitled to recover at least costs from the losing parties.

For more information, see Lagala v. Patene Building Supplies Ltd, 2024 ONSC 253 (CanLII)


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