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  • Writer's pictureShelly McLaughlin

Navigating Credibility in Workplace Disputes: Learning from Recent Legal Cases

Updated: Jan 23

Credibility assessment is a cornerstone in resolving workplace disputes. The recent cases of St. Lawrence College v Ontario Public Service Employee’s Union, Local 418 (2023 CanLII 108797) and Gate Gourmet Canada Inc. v Teamsters Local Union No 647 (2023 CanLII 83442) offer fresh perspectives on how credibility should be evaluated, emphasizing the importance of considering a broad range of factors, even in the presence of inconsistencies. These cases demonstrate that an individual's evidence can retain credibility despite certain discrepancies.

 

St. Lawrence College v Ontario Public Service Employee’s Union, Local 418: A Comprehensive Approach to Credibility: In the St. Lawrence College case, the arbitrator's approach to assessing credibility was multifaceted. The case centered around workplace allegations that required the arbitrator to sift through conflicting testimonies. Despite some inconsistencies in the accounts presented, the arbitrator recognized that such discrepancies do not automatically undermine a person's overall credibility. Instead, the decision highlighted the importance of considering the context, the nature of the inconsistencies, and the possibility of human error or memory lapses. This holistic approach reflects a more nuanced understanding of human behavior and communication, especially in high-stress situations like workplace disputes.

 

Gate Gourmet Canada Inc. v Teamsters Local Union No 647: Credibility Beyond Consistency: Similarly, in the case of Gate Gourmet Canada Inc., the arbitrator dealt with the complex issue of credibility in the midst of conflicting evidence. The case reinforces the notion that credibility assessment is not a black-and-white process. Inconsistencies in testimonies were weighed against the overall plausibility and coherence of the accounts. The decision suggests that credibility should not be assessed solely based on the consistency of a narrative. Factors such as the demeanour of the witnesses, the probability of events, and the internal consistency of the testimonies play crucial roles in determining credibility.

 

These cases send a clear message to employers and unions alike: when assessing credibility in workplace disputes, it's vital to look beyond surface inconsistencies. Employers and arbitrators must consider a range of factors, including the context in which statements were made, the likelihood of human error, and the overall demeanour and reliability of the individuals involved. This comprehensive approach ensures a fairer and more just evaluation process.

 

The determinations made in St. Lawrence College v Ontario Public Service Employee’s Union, Local 418 and Gate Gourmet Canada Inc. v Teamsters Local Union No 647, represent a significant shift in how credibility is assessed in workplace disputes. They highlight the need for a more nuanced approach that considers the complexities of human memory and communication.


These cases remind us that inconsistencies in testimonies do not necessarily equate to dishonesty or unreliability. Factors such as stress, the passage of time, and the complexity of the events being recounted can all contribute to discrepancies in an individual's account. Recognizing these aspects is crucial in ensuring fairness and justice in the resolution of workplace disputes.


For arbitrators and decision-makers in labour relations, these cases underscore the importance of a balanced approach to credibility assessment. It's not just about whether the stories align perfectly but about the overall believability and consistency of the narrative when viewed in its entirety. This approach respects the fact that human recollection is inherently imperfect and that truthfulness is not solely determined by the ability to recall events with precision.


Employers, too, can learn from these rulings. When conducting internal investigations or resolving disputes, it's important to adopt a holistic approach to assessing credibility. Training for managers and HR professionals should include guidance on understanding the nuances of credibility assessment, recognizing that a fair and thorough evaluation often requires looking at the bigger picture.


In summary, St. Lawrence College v Ontario Public Service Employee’s Union, Local 418 and Gate Gourmet Canada Inc. v Teamsters Local Union No 647, serve as important reminders of the complexities involved in assessing credibility. They encourage a more empathetic and comprehensive approach, considering the myriad factors that influence how individuals recall and relay their experiences. As the workplace continues to evolve, so too must our understanding and methodologies in resolving disputes, ensuring fairness and justice remain at the heart of all proceedings.

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