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Posts tagged: damages

Negligent misrepresentation during recruitment process costs employer $83,000

By , October 10, 2017 4:53 pm

Providing misleading information to an employee during the recruitment process about the eligibility for an employee benefits program cost an employer $83,000

Feldstein v 364 Northern Development Corporation

Mr. Feldstein applied for a software engineer position with 364 Northern Development Corporation (“the Company”). Before accepting the position, Mr. Feldstein asked the Company’s Chief Information Officer (“CIO”) about the eligibility requirements for the Company’s long-term disability (“LTD”) plan. As Mr. Feldstein suffered from cystic fibrosis, this information was very important to him, as he believed that he would require substantial LTD benefits in the future.

The CIO provided Mr. Feldstein with a brochure which summarised the Company’s LTD benefits, which contained a “proof of good health” clause. When Mr. Feldstein asked what this clause meant, the CIO explained that he would qualify for LTD benefits after working for the Company for three months. Based on this information, Mr. Feldstein accepted the position and signed an employment contract.

The employment contract in question contained the following “entire agreement” clause:

“This Agreement constitutes the entire agreement between the parties and supersedes all prior communications, representations, understandings and agreements whether verbal or written between the parties with respect to the subject-matter hereof.”

The purpose of an entire agreement clause is to prevent parties who have entered into a final contract from invoking prior discussions or understandings to give a different meaning to its provisions.

However, the contract did not contain any details of the benefits plan. Instead, the clause in the contract stated:

“The Employee shall be entitled to participate in all rights and benefits under any life insurance, disability, medical, dental, health and accident plans maintained by the company for its employees generally. In addition, the Employee shall be entitled to participate in all rights and benefits under other employee plan or plans as may be implemented by the Company during the term of this Agreement.

Shortly after accepting the position, Mr. Feldstein applied for LTD benefits as his health deteriorated significantly. He expected to receive full coverage of up to $5000 per month. Instead, Mr. Feldstein was only eligible for $1000 per month because he had not completed a medical questionnaire which was required to establish “proof of good health.” Mr. feldstein sued the Company for negligent misrepresentation.

Decision

The trial judge made the following findings:

  • the CIO’s explanation of “proof of good health” was inaccurate and misleading;
  • the Company was negligent in making this representation as the CIO had not taken any steps to verify the accuracy of the information he provided and the Company failed to provide Mr. Feldstein with the required medical questionnaire
  • it was reasonable for Mr. Feldstein to rely on the information the CIO provided; and
  • Mr. Feldstein would not have accepted an employment offer that did not provide adequate LTD coverage and acceptable eligibility requirements due to his health concerns.

The Company attempted to argue that the entire agreement clause in the employment contract meant that Mr. Feldstein could not sue for negligent misrepresentation. The court rejected this argument, as the CIO’s statement relating to the meaning of “proof of good health” was not an express term of the contract. As it was a matter outside of the contract, the clause could not exclude liability for pre-contractual misrepresentation.

Mr. Feldstein was awarded $83,336.80 as compensation for lost LTD benefits and $10,000 for aggravated damages. On appeal, the award for loss of benefits was upheld, but the aggravated damages were overturned.

Lessons to be learned

  1. Anyone interviewing a job applicant should provide accurate information concerning employee benefits; otherwise, the organisation may be required to self-insure for the value of benefits that are subsequently denied by the group insurer.
  2. Including an entire agreement clause in a contract like the one cited above does not always protect an employer from negligent misrepresentations made during the hiring process.
  3. It is important to periodically review employment contracts including entire agreement clauses and clauses dealing with group benefits to ensure they still protect employer interests in light of recent developments in the law.

The material and information in this blog and this website are for general information only. They should not be relied on as legal advice or opinion. The authors make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of any information referred to in this blog or its links. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found on this website or blog. Readers should obtain appropriate professional advice from a lawyer duly licensed in the relevant jurisdiction. These materials do not create a lawyer-client relationship between you and any of the authors or the MacLeod Law Firm.

Are terminated employees entitled to their unpaid bonuses?

By , January 30, 2017 4:18 pm

We have previously written about when employees have been found to be entitled to receive their bonus at the time of termination.

To recap, when an employee is terminated without cause, they are entitled to receive notice or pay in lieu of notice. Wrongful dismissal damages are intended to place the terminated employee in the same financial position they would have been in had such notice been given. When the court is calculating wrongful dismissal damages, it will typically include all of the compensation and benefits that the employee would have earned during the notice period. However, whether a bonus the employee would have received should be included in such an award is a complicated question that depends partly on whether it has become an integral part of the employee’s salary.

Bain v UBS Securities Canada Inc.

In this case, Mr. Bain, a 14-year employee, earned a base salary of $385,000 plus  bonus.

Although at the beginning of his employment his bonus was paid by cash, payment changed so that his bonus was paid partly by cash and partly by shares in UBS.

Mr. Bain lost his job when it became redundant. He was paid his entitlements under the Employment Standards Act but was not paid his bonus for 2012 or for the three months that he worked in 2013.

After concluding that Mr. Bain was entitled to receive 18 months’ reasonable notice, the judge turned to the question of whether Mr. Bain should receive his bonus for 2012 and the three months he worked in 2013. The judge decided that the bonus was an integral part of Mr. Bain’s remuneration: he received it, albeit in different amounts, every year; he had always been awarded a bonus in his 14 years of employment and it was a significant component of his income. In fact, Mr. Bain had negotiated a minimum bonus as a term of his employment contract when he decided to join UBS.

The judge noted that UBS had a detailed compensation scheme in place and had the stated goal of transparency and fairness in the granting of bonuses. The fact that the bonus was solely in the discretion of management did not relieve UBS from its obligation to follow a process that was fair and reasonable, using objective criteria applied consistently among employees. The judge also noted that Mr. Bain’s 2012 evaluation contained many “exceeded objectives” assessments, and that his numbers were higher for 2012 than for 2011. The judge looked at evidence from other managers and the bonuses they received, which ranged from $402,300 to over $2 million.

UBS attempted to argue that a new compensation plan was introduced in 2011 that stipulated employees had to be employed with UBS to be paid their bonus. The judge could not conclude that Mr. Bain had accepted this fundamental change to his entitlement to a bonus, or that the new limitations were brought to his attention. The judge concluded that to accept UBS’ argument would mean that Mr. Bain became disentitled to a bonus because of the unilateral actions of UBS, over which Mr. Bain had no control. The judge concluded that Mr. Bain should receive his bonus for 2012, the three months he worked in 2013 and the bonus he would have earned over his 18 month notice period.

Lessons to be learned:

  1. In some circumstances, an employee may be entitled to the bonus they would have earned had they not been dismissed, which includes the bonus they would have earned during their notice period.
  2. An employer may limit an employee’s right to receive bonus payments upon termination, in certain circumstances.
  3. An employer must ensure that this limit is brought to the attention of the employee and forms a part of the employment contract.

The material and information provided on this blog and this website are for general information only and should not, in any respect, be relied on as legal advice or opinion. The authors make no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of any information linked or referred to or contained herein. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found on this website or blog, without first retaining counsel and obtaining appropriate professional advice from a lawyer duly licensed to practice law in the relevant jurisdiction. These materials do not constitute legal advice and do not create a lawyer-client relationship between you and any of the authors or the MacLeod Law Firm.

Damages for Reprisal under Occupational Health and Safety Act

By , January 20, 2017 2:25 pm

It should be common knowledge that changes were made to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“the OHSA”) that have been in effect since September 8, 2016 (and if it’s not common knowledge, you haven’t been reading our previous blogs on the subject). One of these changes allows employees who have been sexually harassed at work to file a complaint under the OHSA.

Prior to September 8, 2016, an employee’s only recourse to address sexual harassment at work was to file an application at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. Now employees may choose where to bring their complaint. Because of how recent the changes to the OHSA are, there are no reported cases where an employee has been terminated in connection with a workplace sexual harassment complaint. However, the example below still illustrates the consequences an employer may face if it terminates an employee for making a sexual harassment complaint.

Facts

In Thompson v 580062 Ontario Inc., a restaurant employed Ms. Thompson as a night manager. Ms. Thompson accused the restaurant owner of calling her rude names and making profane statements on November 8, 2014. Ms. Thompson also accused the owner of grabbing her and pushing her toward the door. Ms. Thompson reported the incident to her manager on the same evening.

Two days later, Ms. Thompson attended the restaurant to check her work schedule and found she was not scheduled to work. The manager told Ms. Thompson that the owner had requested that she not be scheduled. Ms. Thompson then reported the incidents of November 8, 2014 to the Ministry of Labour.

On November 18, 2014, Ms. Thompson sent the owner an email complaining of workplace harassment and violence, and requested a copy of the restaurant’s workplace violence and harassment policies. On November 21, 2014, the owner advised Ms. Thompson that the Ministry of Labour had commenced an inspection under the OHSA. The owner never provided the requested policies to Ms. Thompson, and she was never scheduled to work again despite repeated requests.

Decision

As mentioned above, the OHSA has provisions on workplace harassment, workplace violence and the duties of employers to protect workers and prepare policies with respect to workplace harassment and violence.

The OHSA also has reprisal provisions that prohibit employers are also prohibited from dismissing, disciplining, imposing a penalty upon a worker or intimidating a worker because they have sought enforcement of the OHSA. In order for there to be a breach of these reprisal provisions, there must be the exercise of rights by a worker, a prohibited action on the part of the employer and a causal connection between the two.

The adjudicator was satisfied that at least part of the employer’s reason for ceasing to schedule Ms. Thompson was connected to the fact that she raised health and safety issues in the workplace.

Damages awarded

The remedy for a reprisal is to reinstate the discharged employee and to provide the employee with lost wages from the date of the discharge up until the date of the reinstatement. Depending on how backlogged the Ontario Labour Relations Board is, those wages could add up.

If the employee does not wish to return to work for the employer, which will usually be the case where the employee has complained of workplace violence or harassment (including sexual harassment), the complainant is entitled to damages for loss of employment in lieu of reinstatement. These kinds of damages are meant to compensate for the loss of the job itself. Additionally, employees are also entitled to damages for loss of wages (i.e. to compensate for the wage loss experienced as a result of the termination, subject to the duty to mitigate). Despite the clear overlap between these two kinds of damages, adjudicators have been known to award both kinds of damages, which could lead to a steep award. In one case, a two-year employee was awarded 8 months’ pay.

Lessons to be learned

  1. Make sure you have a written policy to investigate workplace harassment complaints, which has been a requirement under the OHSA since September 8, 2016. For information about our fixed fee service, click here.
  2. Investigate all workplace harassment complaints promptly.
  3. If an employee raises health and safety concerns, be very careful about taking any disciplinary action, even if the decision to discipline the employee in question precedes the employee’s concerns.

The material and information provided on this blog and this website are for general information only and should not, in any respect, be relied on as legal advice or opinion. The authors make no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of any information linked or referred to or contained herein. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found on this website or blog, without first retaining counsel and obtaining appropriate professional advice from a lawyer duly licensed to practice law in the relevant jurisdiction. These materials do not constitute legal advice and do not create a lawyer-client relationship between you and any of the authors or the MacLeod Law Firm.

Wrongful Dismissal Update: The Number of Damage Claims Being Awarded By Trial Judges are Going Up

By , January 17, 2017 8:45 am

Once upon a time, employees did not sign employment contracts with termination clauses and employment lawyers fought over the appropriate “reasonable” notice period.  In 2017, employees now often claim, among other things, wrongful dismissal damages, human rights damages, moral or Wallace damages, punitive damages, and damages for the intentional infliction of mental stress.

By way of example, this blog discusses a recent case decided by a judge of Ontario’s Superior Court after a 27-day trial.

Doyle v. Zochem Incorporated, 2016 ONSC 3199

In this case, a 44-year-old female supervisor with 9 years’ service was fired without any notice of termination. She earned a salary of about $ 85 000, worked in a male dominated workplace, and her termination came shortly after filing a harassment complaint. After her termination, the employee spiralled into depression. She applied for short-term disability benefits but even though the employer’s doctor supported the claim the Company denied it.

In an 82 page decision, the judge awarded the terminated employee three different types of damages.

Wrongful Dismissal Damages

The court concluded the employer should have provided the employee with 10 months notice of termination and ordered the employer to pay her over $ 80 000 in damages which was equal to the remuneration she would have received during this period (including pension contributions, and profit share) less the termination pay and severance pay she received after her termination.

Moral Damages or Wallace Damages

The judge ordered the employer to pay the employee $ 60 000 because of manner of the termination. The Company’s managers were extremely insensitive at the time of her termination; they were cold and brusque and she was not given a reason for her termination. In addition, the judge concluded, among other things, that the Company’s response to the short-term disability claim was insensitive.

Human Rights Damages

The judge ordered the employer to pay the employee $ 25 000 because of how it responded to her harassment claim, including a faulty one-day investigation into it.

Damages for the intentional infliction of mental stress

The judge concluded that even though a manager harassed and demeaned the employee knowing she suffered from depression, she did not intend to cause the employee mental stress and therefore he did not award the employee damages for this claim.

Lessons To Be Learned

  1. Employers should make a reasonable attempt to settle these kinds of cases before litigation is commenced. In this case, the employer made a six month “take it or leave it” offer which was clearly less than her wrongful dismissal damages. I shudder to think about the legal costs associated with a 27 day trial.
  2. Employers have an obligation to act in good faith including at the time of termination. There is no reason to be insensitive to an employee at the time of termination. Doing so will only open up the employer to unnecessary legal liability.
  3. Employers have an obligation to conduct an adequate investigation into a human rights or harassment complaint. An investigation into a sexual harassment complaint should be conducted by someone who is adequately trained. Failure to do so will only open up the employer to unnecessary legal liability.

 

For over 25 years, Doug MacLeod of the MacLeod Law Firm has been advising employers on all aspects of the employment relationship. If you have any questions, you can contact him at 416 317-9894 or at [email protected]

The material and information in this blog and this website are for general information only. They should not be relied on as legal advice or opinion. The authors make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of any information referred to in this blog or its links. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found on this website or blog. Readers should obtain appropriate professional advice from a lawyer duly licensed in the relevant jurisdiction. These materials do not create a lawyer-client relationship between you and any of the authors or the MacLeod Law Firm.

 

 

Investigating Workplace Harassment Complaints: Get Ready for Changes to the OHSA

By , July 26, 2016 7:20 am

“Bob is harassing me.”

Your spidey senses should be tingling. Because some kind of investigation should be taking place soon. If not, consider what happened when an employee at CBC complained about Jian Ghomeshi and was ignored or when an employee at the TO2015 Pan American games complained about David Peterson and her complaint was allegedly not taken seriously.

Immediately after you are told about Bob the alleged harasser you should determine whether the person is alleging workplace harassment.

Under the Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”) harassment on any of the 16 prohibited grounds (like sex and race) is defined as engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.

Effective September 8, 2016, workplace harassment under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (the “OHSA”) will be defined as (a) engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome, or (b) workplace sexual harassment.

An employee who has been harassed within the meaning of the Code can obtain damages from her employer from the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal or from the Ontario Courts. An employee who complains he has been harassed under the OHSA cannot claim damages.

Sexual Harassment: A Special Kind of Harassment

For reasons that I do not understand, the Ontario government has decreed that effective September 8, 2016 an employee who has been sexually harassed at work can file a complaint under the Code or under OHSA. Accordingly, an employee who has been sexually harassed will thereafter be able to commence legal proceedings in at least 3 legal fora; namely;

1. An application under the Code

The Code prohibits sexual harassment in employment and a person can file an application under the Code seeking damages. In a 2015 decision an adjudicator under the Code awarded a former employee who had been sexually harassed $ 150 000 in general damages.

2. A complaint under the OHSA

An employee can file a complaint and the employer must investigate the complaint and inform the person of the results of the investigation. The only obligation is to investigate and report back to the person.

3. An action in Ontario’s Superior Court

An employee can sue for damages for a breach of the Code and/or for damages for the tort of sexual assault. In a 2015 decision a judge awarded a former employee over $ 300 000 damages in connection with sexual harassment/assault in the workplace.

Lessons to Be learned

1. Make sure you have a written policy to investigate workplace harassment complaints in place by September 8, 2016. For information about our fixed fee service, click here.

2. Sexual harassment complaints can be more legally complicated than other kinds of harassment complaints.

3. Investigate all workplace harassment complaints quickly and tailor the investigation to the circumstances of the case. This includes: deciding whether to use an internal or external investigator; whether to permit employees to bring legal representation to meetings; whether the investigator can make recommendations; whether to write a report; whether to release a formal report (if one is prepared) to the parties, etc. Not all investigations need to be treated the same.

For over 25 years, Doug MacLeod of the MacLeod Law Firm has been advising employers on all aspects of the employment relationship. If you have any questions, you can contact him at 416 317-9894 or at [email protected]

“The material and information provided on this blog and this website are for general information only and should not, in any respect, be relied on as legal advice or opinion. The authors make no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of any information linked or referred to or contained herein. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found on this website or blog, without first retaining counsel and obtaining appropriate professional advice from a lawyer duly licensed to practice law in the relevant jurisdiction. These materials do not constitute legal advice and do not create a lawyer-client relationship between you and any of the authors or the MacLeod Law Firm.”

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