Saturday, 21 January 2017

Ottawa Small Claims Court Awards $4,000 in Punitive Damages after Employer Falsely Alleges Just Cause

Truth or Consequences was an American television show originally hosted on NBC radio by Ralph Edwards (1940–1957) and later on television by Edwards (1950–1954), Jack Bailey (1954–1955), Bob Barker (1956–1975), Bob Hilton (1977–1978) and Larry Anderson (1987–1988). The television show ran on CBS, NBC and also in syndication. The premise of the show was to mix the original quiz element of game shows with wacky stunts.

The title “Truth or Consequences” serves as an appropriate introduction to the issue of what happens when an employer concocts reasons for termination after being served with an employee’s claim of wrongful dismissal.

The question answered by this post is: What is the penalty to an employer for concocting an allegation of theft in order to justify an allegation of just cause for termination? In a case from the Ottawa Small Claims Court, Budge v Dickie Moore Rental Inc, 2017 CanLII 468 (ON SCSM), the answer was $4,000 in punitive damages.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Voluntary Resignation Results in Forfeiture of Bonus: ONSC

(c) istock/ognianm

“Got to pack my, things and go / Move fast not slow / That dog is mine.” Those are the opening lyrics to the song “The Dog is Mine” by Canadian rapper k-os. It’s a catchy song.

Those lyrics provide a great introduction not only to “The Dog is Mine”, they also provide a great introduction to the subject of whether an employee who voluntarily resigns from his employment is entitled to an earned but not yet paid incentive bonus.

In Bois v MD Physician Services Inc., 2016 ONSC 8133 (CanLII), the Honourable Madam Justice Sylvia Corthorn of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice was tasked with answering the following legal question: If an employee is entitled to earn a bonus payment pursuant to the terms of a written employment contract, but a requirement of that employment contract - and a material condition precedent to the actual payment of the bonus - is that the employee must be “actively employed” on the date that the bonus payment is to be made by the employer, is the employee nonetheless entitled to the receipt of the earned but not yet paid bonus payment if he voluntarily resigns from his employment prior to the date on which the bonus payment is made? Put another way, can you still get your bonus if you quit before it's paid to you?

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Ontario Employers’ Ability to Claim Indemnification from Their Employees for Employee Negligence

(c) istock/nomangarden

Can an employee be sued by his employer if, by his own negligent actions, he causes his employer to suffer a financial loss? In legalese, at Ontario common law, if an employer is found vicariously liable for the negligent actions of its employee, in which negligence the employer was no way contributorily negligent, can the employer successfully make claim for indemnification from its employee?

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Ontario Judge Finds Temporary Coverage Employee Entitled to Balance of One-Year Contract

(c) istock/kellyvandellen

When is a contract to cover someone’s maternity leave a fixed-term employment contract? That was the question that the Honourable Justice Sidney N. Lederman of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice was asked to resolve in the case of Ballim v Bausch & Lomb Canada Inc., 2016 ONSC 6307 (CanLII).

In short, the answer is: While an indefinite contract with a termination clause is just what it sounds, so is a “one-year contract”. The lesson for employers is be careful what words you use.

A Call for the Celebration of Boxing Day

(c) istock/DragonImages

Here is a controversial statement: Boxing Day is far more deserving of public holiday status than is Christmas Day. Who would dare say such a thing? I would.

Before researching the subject of Boxing Day, I had planned to argue for its removal from the list of designated public holidays in Ontario. I intended to propose that the public holiday be moved from December 26 to a Friday in June for essentially three reasons:

  1. Few people know the significance of Boxing Day;
  2. There are already too many holidays between December 25 and January 1; and
  3. The month of June sure could use a ‘stat.’

All of those points remain valid. The month of June really could use a long weekend and three holidays in one week sure does seem like a lot. All of which leads me to conclude that perhaps Christmas Day should no longer be a statutory public holiday. (For more of my thoughts on this subject see my earlier post Opinion: Seeking Retail Honesty.) I’ll probably write more about that subject later, but I am serious when I say that I would honestly propose to remove Christmas Day from the list of statutory public holidays – especially if it was in favour of a June long weekend.

I know what you are likely now thinking, ‘you are proposing to remove Christmas Day from the list of public holidays, but Boxing Day, the day on which we now lineup in the wee morning hours to buy electronics, should remain a designated public holiday?!’

Trust me, once you understand the historical significance of Boxing Day, you will agree that the day is far more deserving of public holiday status than is Christmas Day.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Top Five Cases of Importance to Ontario Employment Law - 2016 Edition

I have listed my “Top Five Cases of Importance to Ontario Employment Law” every year since 2012 (see: 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.) So, with another year coming to a close it is once again time for this Ontario employment lawyer to provide his picks for the Top Five Cases of Importance to Ontario Employment Law.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Employers Can Terminate Probationary Employees Without Cause

(c) istock/Jrcasas

Can an employer terminate the employment of an employee on probation without cause? That was the fundamental question that the Ontario Divisional Court had to answer in the case of Barton v. Bowerman, unreported, Divisional Court File No. 16-DC-2178 (Ottawa.)

In an earlier post, An employer can only dismiss a probationary employee for just cause” – Why that statement may have been correct, but it doesn’t mean what you think, I wrote about what it means to be on probation and the statement in the case of Mison v. Bank of Nova Scotia, 1994 CanLII 7383 (ON SC) that, “… an employer can only dismiss a probationary employee for just cause.”

In that earlier post, I wrote the following with respect to the termination of a probationary employee:

First, it is clear, settled law that a provincially regulated employer requires neither just cause nor even reason to terminate the employment of an employee who is not on probation. Meaning that those employees who either (a) are not placed on probation, see my next point below, or (b) ‘survive’ the probationary period, most certainly can be terminated without cause or reason.

Second, the placement of an employee on probation is wholly at the discretion of the employer; there is no automatic probationary period.

Third, the act of placing an employee “on probation” cannot possibly elevate the employee’s rights; that would be antithetical to the point.

So if all of those points are legally correct, and I would submit that they are, then why is an employer required to demonstrate just cause to terminate the employment of a probationary employee at all? Sure, it’s a modified test under Mison, but still, what is the legal basis for requiring an employer to show fairness to employee to whom it has arguably provided more notice of an intention to ‘fire at will’ than one to whom it has not? It simply makes no sense to me.

I then asked for comments on the issue of probation, and Professor David Doorey of Osgoode Hall Law School wrote the following:

I'd argue that a probationary clause does not oust the right of employer to terminate with notice, without alleging that termination is for cause. But once employer asserts termination is due to unfitness or failure to meet performance standards, a probationary clause allows court to assess the employer's decision on a low threshold standard of review (did employer fairly evaluate, give employee a reasonable chance, not act in bad faith, etc). The probationary clause introduces a lower standard of cause for employers who want to avoid notice and rely on summary dismissal. Having said that, if a probationary employee is terminated while a probationary clause is still in effect, a court may presume that the termination was due to performance or unfitness and consider the employer's decision in any event. Since notice period for a probationary employee would always be very short, at least if the contract requires only ESA minimum notice, I've never understand the value to an employer of including a probationary clause. If the probationary period is less than 3 months, no notice is required under ESA, if 3-12 months, it is one week's notice. Why not just give the notice and be done with it?

What Professor Doorey did not know at the time was that his position was exactly what I intended to argue before the Divisional Court and on November 30, 2016, I did make exactly that argument.

So are we right?