The application of the duty to mitigate to the post-termination earnings of wrongfully dismissed employees is probably the most reviled subject that an Ontario employment lawyer will have to discuss with his employee clients. (By contrast, it is a favourite subject of employers.) In short, the doctrine essentially provides that an employer is entitled to the set-off of any post-termination dollars earned by the dismissed employee during the reasonable notice period. As the case of Davidson v. Tahtsa Timber Ltd., 2010 BCCA 528 (CanLII) demonstrates, sometimes by virtue of an employee’s success in finding new employment, an employee can be completely shut out from being awarded anything notwithstanding being wrongfully dismissed.
But what happens when an employee takes a new job not so much to “mitigate her damages”, but rather to survive? More to the point, what if that new position is so much beneath the wrongfully dismissed employee’s previous position that to deduct such earnings would work a disservice to the employee?
In the case of Brake v PJ-M2R Restaurant Inc., 2016 ONSC 1795 (CanLII), the Honourable Justice Kevin B. Phillips of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice sitting at Ottawa held that a wrongfully dismissed employee’s ability to find employment did not take away from the loss she suffered from being dismissed without cause. Moreover, her new position, that of a cashier, was so substantially inferior to the managerial position she held with the defendant that, “the former does not diminish the loss of the latter.” As a result no deduction was applied on account of the mitigatory earnings.