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Posts tagged: employee termination

The Cost of Terminating Employees When a Business is Sold

By , April 17, 2018 8:29 am

When a business is sold the cost of terminating unwanted employees can significantly impact the sale price. The purchaser does not want to pay the cost of terminating long service employees, and the seller doesn’t want to incur termination costs which reduces the net sale price.

General Rules on Termination Pay Obligation when a Business is Sold

  1. Under the Employment Standards Act (the “ESA”)

A section in the ESA states that when a business is sold an employee’s service with the seller is deemed to be service with the buyer when the buyer subsequently terminates the employee. So if an employee worked five years with the seller and is terminated six months later by the buyer then the buyer owes the employee five weeks notice of termination; not one week notice.

  1. At Common law

Unless the buyer stipulates otherwise, an employee’s service with the seller is taken into account by the courts when determining common law reasonable notice of termination when the buyer subsequently terminates the employee.

How the Seller of a Business Can Reduce Termination Costs

If you are thinking of selling your business over the next 2 to 3 years then a great way to reduce termination costs is to make sure that all of your employees have signed an employment contract with an enforceable termination clause. This clause can significantly reduce your termination pay obligations for employees you are required to terminate as a condition of the sale.

Existing employees can sign an employment contract but managing this process can be very tricky. We help sellers navigate this legal and HR minefield.

How a Purchaser of a Business Can Reduce Termination Costs

If you are buying a business then a great way to limit liability for termination pay for the employees you inherit from the seller is to require them to sign an employment contract with an enforceable termination clause.

We help buyers prepare employment contracts for the seller’s employees that address employee benefits, vacation, termination pay and other terms of employment that are of interest to the seller’s employees. This is especially important for key employees who are critical to the continued success of the business.

Lessons to Be Learned:

1. The cost of terminating long-term employees can be significant. In fact, in some cases I have seen termination costs eat up most of the sale proceeds.

2. To avoid this situation, termination costs can be reduced by including a termination clause in an employment contract. These contracts can significantly benefit the seller.

3. Often one of the key challenges for the seller is convincing the buyer to take on all employees on substantially the same terms and conditions of employment. We help our clients with this issue.

4. On the other hand, one of the key success factors in a sale of a business for the buyer is retaining certain key employees. Negotiating a “fair” employment contract with these employees can be difficult because these employees have so much bargaining power. We help our clients with this negotiation.

5. Sellers and buyers can benefit from speaking with an employment lawyer well in advance of the sale of a business.

For over 30 years Doug MacLeod has been advising employers on all aspects of the employment relationship. You can contact Doug directly 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.

 

Wal-Mart Employee Awarded $250,000 in Moral Damages and $500,000 in Punitive Damages

By , January 23, 2018 9:00 am

When deciding whether to settle a case, a lawyer assesses the risks and uncertainties inherent in the litigation process including the quantum of damages that a judge will likely order for each head of damages claimed. I call this litigation risk.  

As I have written beforeemployees seldom claim only wrongful dismissal damages in an employee termination case. Additional heads of damages include human rights damages, moral damages, punitive damages, and damages for the intentional infliction of mental stress. This results in more litigation risk but despite this increased risk more than 90% of cases still settle.

Every once in a while a case goes to court and the decision increases the litigation risk for all subsequent cases. This is one of those cases. Based on the reported facts in this caseI would never have predicted that Wal-Mart would have been ordered to pay the employee $ 250 000 in moral damages and $ 500 000 in punitive damages.

Until this case is appealed or followed/considered/distinguished by other trial judges, I will need to consider this decision when assessing the chances a judge will order moral damages and punitive damages in my cases. And in the meantime, litigation risk has increased for employers in employee termination cases.

The Facts

In September 2002, Gail Galea started working at Wal-Mart and about 8 years later her employment was terminated without just cause. About 10 months before her employment was terminated, her position was eliminated because of a re-organization. During her last 10 months of employment, Wal-Mart tried to find her another position within the organization and sent her to Harvard for an 8-week executive management program. When Wal-Mart couldn’t find her a suitable position she was terminated without cause. Instead of paying her the two years pay she was owed, Wal-Mart continued her benefits and the equivalent of her salary for 11.5 months.

Trial Decision

The judge concluded that an agreement between Ms Galea and Wal-Mart obliged Wal-Mart to pay her damages equal to the compensation and benefits she would have earned during the two year period after her termination.

As far as paying Ms. Galea damages for variable compensation during the 2 year period after her termination was concerned, Wal-Mart took the position it owed her no monies under a Management Incentive (Bonus) Program, Deferred Profit Sharing Plan, Executive Retirement Plan and a Long Term Incentive Plan. The trial judge disagreed except for damages claimed under the Long Term Incentive Plan.

Ms. Galea claimed moral damages because of the manner of her termination. The trial judge awarded her $200,000 for the treatment she received from Wal-Mart during the last 10 months of her employment including the 2 months she spent at Harvard. “She was made to suffer repeated humiliation, starting with the announcement of her re-assignment from Vice President, General Merchandising to that of a roving vice president of little substance.”

Ms. Galea claimed damages for the way Wal-Mart acted after her termination. The judge awarded her an additional    $50,000 damages for the following behavior. “I consider Wal-Mart’s decision to stop the continued payment of her base salary and the health and dental coverage to her and her family (after 11.5 months) to be unduly insensitive, and to have caused her mental distress. I consider Wal-Mart’s delay in answering its undertakings until the eve of trial, and the torrent of productions made in the course of the trial,… capable of causing Ms. Galea  prolonged anguish about the case.”

Ms. Galea provided no medical evidence that these actions caused her mental distress.

Ms. Galea claimed punitive damages. The trial judge awarded her $ 500 000 punitive damages for the following behaviour: “ All of Wal-Mart’s conduct that justifies an award of punitive damages occurred between January 29, 2010 and November 19, 2010 when Wal-Mart would make representations to Ms. Galea about her career prospects while making decisions that detracted from, or even defeated that purpose. It is not that Wal-Mart set Ms. Galea up to fail; it is that Wal-Mart built her up, only to let her down that much more. That corporate behaviour was not just unduly insensitive, it was mean.”

Lessons to be Learned

  1. Wal-Mart’s decision to stop termination payments after 11.5 months instead of continuing the payments for the contractually prescribed 24 months was a reason the judge ordered Wal-Mart to pay Ms. Galea moral damages. Accordingly, in this case, damages flowing from the breach of contract was more than would normally be awarded in a case like this which is the difference between the 11.5 months and the 24 months.
  2. If an employer does not want an employee to receive damages for the variable compensation that she would have earned had she received notice of termination then the variable compensation plan must clearly say so. For earlier blogs on this issue, click here
  3. If an employer implements a re-organization and does not immediately offer a new job to a person whose position has been eliminated then the employer should provide a reasonable road map to the displaced employee on how her continued employment will be handled and act consistently with this plan. In this case, the judge stated: “Conduct that can trigger moral damages includes an employer’s conduct that is untruthful, misleading or unduly insensitive, and a failure to be candid, reasonable, honest and forthright with the employee.” He found that Wal-Mart breached this duty as it was trying to find a new position for Ms. Galea. I don’t know if this case will turn out to be an outlier but in the meantime employers should be very careful when dealing with an employee who is between jobs within the organization.

For over 30 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 directly 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.

 

Employer Alert: Termination Clause UPHELD by Ontario’s Court of Appeal in Nemeth v. Hatch Ltd

By , January 12, 2018 2:20 pm

On Monday, Ontario’s Court of Appeal concluded in Nemeth v. Hatch Ltd., 2018 ONCA 7 that the following termination clause was legally enforceable and that the terminated employee who had been employed for 19 years was entitled to 19 weeks termination pay:

The Termination Clause

The Company’s policy with respect to termination is that employment may be terminated by either party with notice in writing. The notice period shall amount to one week per year of service with a minimum of four weeks or the notice required by the applicable labour legislation.

My guess is that most employment lawyers who have read this decision are scratching their collective heads, and asking, “What?”

This decision will result in many plaintiff side lawyers taking pause and re-evaluating their cases.

Until this case was released many trial judges were bending over backwards to find uncertainty and ambiguity in termination clauses and striking them down which benefited employees. For a summary of some of these cases click here

The decision in Nemeth v. Hatch Ltd. is a good case in point. An enforceable termination clause meant the employee was entitled to 19 weeks termination pay. If the clause had been found to be unenforceable however then the employee would have been entitled to closer to 19 months notice.

Lesson To Be Learned

At the moment, it is extremely difficult if not impossible to guess whether or not an Ontario trial judge will enforce a termination clause in an employment contract. The Court of Appeal has found a number of such clauses to be enforceable however for the last few years trial judges have been finding ways to get around these cases or as, lawyers say, have concluded these decisions are distinguishable.

In Nemeth v. Hatch Ltd. the Court of Appeal may have been trying to bring more certainty to the law as it relates to the enforceability of termination clauses. In the short term, however, I predict that this decision will create more uncertainty in this area of the law.

Can a successor employer offer a person lessor termination pay than the original employer?

By , November 17, 2017 5:13 pm

Can a successor employer offer a person lessor termination pay than the original employer?

This issue was addressed by Ontario’s Court of Appeal in Krishnamoorthy v. Olympus Canada Inc., 2017 ONCA 873

Facts:  Carsen Group Inc. was the exclusive Canadian distributor for Olympus America Inc. Olympus America decided to terminate its distribution agreement with Carsen, and started a related company, Olympus Canada Inc. to distribute its Canadian products. In July 2006, Olympus America terminated its distribution agreement with Carsen and offered employment to one of Carsen’s employees, Nadesan Krishnamoorthy .  

Olympus Canada provided an offer of employment to Mr. Krishnamoorthy. The terms of the employment agreement limited the notice of employment he was entitled to receive to Employment Standards Act (“ESA”) minimums.  When Mr. Krishnamoorthy accepted Olympus Canada’s offer, he did not receive a signing bonus or any other additional compensation for entering into an employment agreement with Olympus Canada.  

Ten years later, Olympus Canada terminated Mr. Krishnamoorthy’s employment  without cause. Olympus Canada offered him the termination pay he was owed under his employment agreement.  Mr. Krishnamoorthy refused the offer claiming  the termination clause was unenforceable because Olympus Canada had not provided him with any legal consideration.

Issue on appeal: Did the motion judge err in concluding that the termination clause in the parties’ employment agreement was unenforceable due to a lack of consideration?

Decision: The Court of Appeal reversed the motion judge’s decision and ruled that Olympus Canada’s offer of employment amounted to consideration for the termination clause.

Mr. Krishnamoorthy relied on a provision of the Employment Standards Act which deems there to be continuity of employment where an employer sells his business to a purchaser who employs an employee of the employer. However, the Court ruled that this statutory provision  can not be used to claim rights or entitlements on which the ESA is silent. For example,  it does not require the purchaser of a business’ assets to offer employment to employees of that business on the same terms as their original contracts as claimed by Mr. Krishnamoorthy.  Olympus Canada became a new employer upon its purchase of some of Carsen’s assets, and the fact that Mr. Krishnamoorthy’s day-to-day job did not materially change after the sale was not relevant. As such, the Court of Appeal found that Olympus Canada’s offer of employment amounted to consideration for the termination clause.

Lessons to be learned:

  1. If your organization purchases the assets of another business you can offer employees of that business lessor terms of employment such as a lower pay rate and less termination pay.
  2. The employee is generally not required to accept substantially lesser terms of employment.
  3. If the employee accepts lesser terms of employment then a court will generally enforce the lesser terms of employment provided the contract is drafted properly and the terms comply with the Employment Standards Act.

An update on mitigation: What happens when a wrongful dismissal case gets to court while the employee is still unemployed?

By , April 3, 2017 8:42 am

The Basics

A wrongful dismissal occurs when an employer does not provide enough notice of termination. An employee can claim damages equal to the remuneration the employee would have earned during the applicable notice period. During the notice period, an employee is subject to the “duty to mitigate,” which means they must look for alternative employment. Notice periods can be as long as 24 months, and even longer in exceptional circumstances. Increasingly, wrongful dismissal cases are getting to court before the reasonable notice period has expired. In these cases, the employee is still subject to the duty to mitigate for the balance of the notice period. In a recent case, the Superior Court of Justice had to answer the question of how the issue of future mitigation should be recognised in the calculation of damages given the fact that the period of reasonable notice had not yet expired.

Patterson v IBM Canada Ltd, 2017 ONSC 1264

In Patterson v IBM Canada Ltd., the hearing took place in February 2017, just over eight months after the Mr. Patterson’s employment was terminated. The judge found that the reasonable notice period in Mr. Patterson’s case was 18 months.

Mr. Patterson claimed that, given his job search history thus far, his prospects of finding alternative employment were low, and he should therefore receive the full 18 months’ pay. IBM suggested the court should discount any award of damages by 10% to reflect the possibility of future mitigation, i.e. that Mr. Patterson may obtain employment during the remainder of the notice period.

The judge noted that the courts have used several approaches in these cases, the two main ones being the “trust and accounting” approach (where the plaintiff is required to account to the defendant for future income if any is earned during the notice period) and the contingency approach (which is the approach IBM was suggesting).

In this case, the judge preferred the contingency approach, and reduced Mr. Patterson’s damages accordingly. The judge found that if the trust and accounting approach were to be applied, Mr. Patterson would have no incentive to continue in his job search. Furthermore, the contingency approach avoids the possibility of future legal entanglements between the parties.

Lessons to be Learned

There is no consensus on which approach an Ontario judge will follow when a wrongful dismissal case is decided before the end of the reasonable notice period. If you are planning on dismissing a long-term employee, it is important to consult with a lawyer to discuss whether a severance package with a built-in contingency approach can be offered, rather than leaving that decision to a judge after spending significant legal costs. The lawyer can also explain the extent of the employee’s obligation to mitigate (look for work) throughout the litigation process.

“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.”

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