Ex energy manager describes ‘toxic’ workplace

The Yukon government’s former energy manager intends to sue the territory for wrongful dismissal.

The Yukon government’s former energy manager intends to sue the territory for wrongful dismissal.

On paper, Phil Thompson nearly looks like the perfect candidate for the job. Thompson, 57, has worked as an energy consultant for 34 years. He’s conducted thousands of energy audits on homes, and he lived for five years off the grid, in a house he built in Nova Scotia that is powered by solar panels.

And he’s held a similar energy management job in the Northwest Territories, so he’s familiar with problems particular to the North.

Yet after six months on the job, Thompson was fired from his Highways and Public Works post in October, 2008.

Thompson didn’t do his job well enough, says his boss. Thompson says he did it too well and that got under an insecure manager’s skin.

Thompson also believes his dismissal was spurred by complaints he made about sexist and racist remarks routinely uttered by a senior co-worker who has cozy connections to higher-ups.

Most people with a wrongful dismissal case keep clear of the media, fearing putting a fat severance cheque in jeopardy, which, if the court case succeeds, is often worth an additional years’ salary.

But Thompson says he only wants the half-year’s salary of $35,000 he’s owed, according to his contract. And he wants to talk publicly about his treatment to make a point.

A wide chasm exists between Thompson’s side of the story and the government’s. Both positions are outlined in a 17-page performance review.

According to Thompson’s boss, he was simply a bad worker. The review states Thompson did shoddy work, never completed a major project despite being repeatedly told it was a priority, took road trips and holidays without authorization, and routinely behaved in an insubordinate manner towards his boss.

Thompson says this is an hatchet-job on his character. He disputes nearly all the accusations.

He wants to be clear that he found most Yukon government employees to be dedicated to their jobs and pleasant to work with. But there are some bullies in the ranks, and there’s much official denial over these employees’ inappropriate behaviour.

One of Thompson’s co-workers would routinely disparage aboriginal people and would make inappropriate sexual remarks, he says. Such behaviour would lead to a speedy dismissal in other governments.

Thompson confronted the co-worker. He said such comments made him uncomfortable. He was sworn at.

So Thompson took it up with his boss, who did nothing to fix the situation, he says.

Thompson asked a human resources worker what to do next. He was told to contact his department’s director. He did. But again, nothing came of it.

Eventually he made a union grievance. Then, he says, he discovered his union representative was good friends with the co-worker who routinely made racist and sexist remarks.

“Then I knew I was in trouble,” Thompson says.

He asked Public Works Deputy Minister Mike Johnson to appeal his dismissal. No luck.

Thompson, who was still on probation, was fired without even two weeks notice.

Needless to say, racist and inappropriate sexual remarks are not supposed to be tolerated under the government’s harassment guidelines. Thompson is willing to believe his boss may not have understood the rules. But there should be no excuse for his director or deputy minister, he says.

“By supporting a wrongful dismissal, the DM is now responsible.”

The government won’t directly comment on Thompson’s allegations, other than to say that workplace harassment is not tolerated.

As for complaints directed at Thompson’s work performance, he says that his boss set him up to fail by assigning him an unreasonable number of projects, then promptly complaining that some work had been ignored.

“They’d tell me to work exclusively on the energy plan, and then the next day I’d be asked to sit in a three-hour meeting for design review.”

He also claims he was micromanaged to a point where every e-mail he sent was expected to be vetted by his boss.

His boss knew full well of all travel plans, says Thompson. One trip to Haines Junction was not authorized, he says, because his boss was away from the office taking courses. But the boss had been told no fewer than three times about the trip. And it was commonplace in the office to have the paperwork for such trips completed afterwards, he says.

The trip is cited by the boss as one instance of insubordination to justify the firing.

“He was just looking for a reason to let me go,” says Thompson.

Disparaging comments about the quality of Thompson’s work is equally scurrilous, he says. Other than his boss, he received nothing but positive comments from government employees, he says.

Now he’s been blacklisted by the Yukon government, says Thompson. Government officials deny the allegation.

He’s applied for other energy-related jobs, and received enthusiastic responses from potential bosses, only to have his application discarded by the human resources department, he said.

“The director of human resources is mad, so I won’t even get an interview,” he said.

Beyond Thompson’s personal grievances, he also has a bit of unsolicited advice for the government.

The territory currently spends about $13 million to heat its public buildings, he says. He claims this is about $4 million more than the territory should have to spend, if it took some sensible measures to improve energy conservation.

But there are obstacles. Namely, he says there simply isn’t much in the way of a budget to implement energy-conservation measures. No budget, no room for improvement.

And much institutional memory has been lost since cabinet directed the government to make buildings more energy efficient a decade ago. Departments don’t always co-operate to meet this end.

He understands government moves slowly towards such goals. He figures a new cabinet directive could help get things moving again.

What Thompson can’t understand is how the government moved to swiftly to fire him. The dismissal had already been fully processed by the time he learned about it in October.

This, he says, “was the only time the government did anything quickly.”

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

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