CHAUDHRI: MPs need same harsh penalties as private CEOs who commit blatant misconduct

It is time MPs are treated like CEOs and removed from power for blatant misconduct

Yasmin Ratansi, MP for Don Valley East was outed this week for hiring and paying her very own sister as an employee in her constituency office. Ratansi’s sister, Zeenat Khatri earned a reported $89,700 annually over several years. Ratansi hired her sister in brazen disregard of bylaws that are explicit in this country forbidding MPs from hiring siblings. Clearly this isn’t the first-time family members have shadowed the halls of the offices of our elected officials. And, on our dime.

More recently, former employees claim that Ratansi actively covered up her sister’s employment at the office, having staff refer to her sister by the name “Jenny” to avoid any suspicion of familial ties. Staff were also allegedly instructed not to photograph her sister at public events.

The issues don’t stop there. A cohort of Ratansi’s employees have emerged this week alleging she created a toxic and verbally abusive environment at her constituency office.

Ratansi allegedly yelled at employees and insulted some of their appearances including calling some staff “fat” and preventing some staffers from attending events for looking “like s***.” She allegedly made comments that can only be described as discriminatory and racist toward different community groups in her riding. Ratansi disputes the allegations.

In response, Ratansi has resigned from the Liberal caucus, admitted to hiring her sister, apologizing for her “error of judgment” and that she “takes full responsibility”. So far, the only disciplinary action on record is the “letter of concern” that Ratansi received from ethics commissioner Mario Dion, who you may recall as having released a scathing report in the SNC-Lavalin affair. Ratansi has 30 days to respond.

Until then she will continue to serve her riding as an Independent MP. If this was the laundry list of allegations against a CEO or executive in the private sector, most organizations would bench the rogue employee immediately. An investigation would quickly ensue, with swift recourse including potentially a termination for cause. Businesses do not stand for impropriety, dishonesty, or discrimination.

While there is no doubt that Dion will leave no stone unturned in this investigation, the timeline matters just as much. Ratansi has already admitted to flouting the bylaws and using parliamentary resources. No longer are we assessing whether there was serious misconduct, because Ratansi has already admitted as much; we must only determine the consequence, and that must also be done soon. Ratansi continues to lead unencumbered.

Swift consequences for bad apples will bring about real change. It is about time MPs are handed the same fate that would befall any misbehaving employee.

On to your questions from this week:

Q. My employer laid me off and called me back part-time. I thought part-time would be temporary, but it has been a few weeks now and it doesn’t seem like my hours will go back to full-time. Did I shoot myself in the foot by coming back only part-time? Am I just a part-time worker? What about all the money I lost during the lay-off? Doesn’t my employer owe me that?

A. Firstly, kudos to you for returning to work to show good faith. If you have not already e-mailed your employer that you came back part-time in good faith to help the business but it is your expectation and intent to return to full time work right away. Then ask for a firm date for when full-time work will restart. If you do not get a straight answer, get legal advice. You may have a claim for the lost wages during your lay-off. If you resisted it in writing (i.e. an e-mail) to your employer you could depend on that to seek back pay. Alternatively, you could file an Employment Standards Act complaint for the lost wages. Best place to start is discussing it with your employer.

Q. COVID-19 cases are staggering now but my employer has not made a peep about shutting down or allowing us to work from home. We are not an essential service and I wonder if we have to wait for a lock down for my employer to allow us to work remotely again. Is there anything employees can do to stay safe and still earn an income? Do employers have to follow the City’s recommendations?

A. Until and unless a province or city-wide regulation is passed mandating non-essential businesses to shut down, employers will not be mandated to accommodate remote work. Even then, if your employer completely shuts down, you may be laid off entirely with no work to do. This is despite the fact the province and City of Toronto have recommended that employers facilitate telecommuting where possible. This week Mayor Tory has recommended that people stay home unless required to attend work or school and some other limited activities. That suggests that the requirement to physically attend work to earn a wage will remain until something drastic happens. If you need an accommodation however ie. Childcare, medical concerns talk to your employer about a work from home schedule. This is, of course, an easier conversation to have if you were previously able to work remotely during the first wave.

Email me at [email protected] with your workplace questions and your question may be featured in a future column. Cases are up, stay home and stay safe my friends.