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Posts tagged: Wrongful Dismissal

Punitive Damages: Rare But Not Unheard Of

By , January 2, 2019 10:00 am

As we have written before, an employer may generally terminate an employee for any good business reason as long as it provides the employee with adequate notice of termination (or pay in lieu of this notice). Failure to provide adequate notice results in a wrongful dismissal. However, if an employer has ‘just cause’ for the termination, then the employer does not generally need to provide the employee with any notice of termination.

In addition to awarding damages for wrongful dismissal, courts have the authority to award “aggravated” or “moral” damages, and “punitive” damages, in certain circumstances (see here for some examples). Although punitive damages are rare, the courts will not shy away from awarding them if the circumstances merit it. A recent case from the Ontario Court of Appeal provides a good example of when these kind of damages may be awarded by the courts.

In Hampton Securities Limited v Dean, Hampton Securities employed Ms. Dean from March 2008 to April 2009 as a securities trader. Under the terms of the employment contract, Ms. Dean bore partial responsibility for losses resulting from her trades. It is industry practice for securities traders to absorb part of the losses they incur in the ordinary course of their duties. However, a dispute arose as to how much responsibility Ms. Dean had to bear for her losses. In the end, Ms. Dean resigned.

Hampton Securities initiated a claim against Ms. Dean for failure to pay her share of the losses resulting from her trades. Hampton Securities also reported Ms. Dean’s termination to the Investment Industry Regulatory Organisation of Canada (“IIROC”), and in its report, stated that Ms. Dean had been terminated for failing to follow established trading policies and engaging in unauthorised trading.

Ms. Dean then brought a counterclaim for constructive dismissal, alleging that Hampton Securities sought to alter the terms of her employment by unilaterally reinterpreting her contract. She also alleged that Hampton Securities’ report to IIROC constituted defamation. The Superior Court of Justice agreed with Ms. Dean regarding her allegation that her employer had sought to rewrite her employment contract without her consent.

Having found that she was constructively dismissed, the court then asked what damages it should award to Ms. Dean. Ms. Dean claimed $25,000 in aggravated damages, $25,000 in damages for defamation and $25,000 in punitive damages. The court found that although Hampton Securities’ conduct in misstating the reasons for Ms. Dean’s termination to IIROC was reprehensible, aggravated damages were not available, particularly due to concern of overlap between Ms. Dean’s defamation claim and her claim for aggravated damages.

With respect to punitive damages, these damages are awarded to sanction conduct that represents a “marked departure from ordinary standards of decent behaviour.” Whereas most damages at law are meant to compensate the injured party, punitive damages, as their name suggest, are meant to demonstrate retribution, deterrence and denunciation. Although punitive damages are the exception rather than the norm, the court found that this was an exceptional case. Hampton Securities’ conduct in filing a notice of termination containing allegations that went to the heart of Ms. Dean’s integrity represented a marked departure from ordinary standards of decent behaviour. Hampton Securities knew the allegations, which were untrue, would be available to all potential employers of Ms. Dean and would be fatal to the prospect of her obtaining future employment in the securities industry. The court found that such conduct which had potentially lifelong implications for an employee warranted condemnation and punishment.

The court found that Ms. Dean was entitled to $25,000 in punitive damages. The court also awarded Ms. Dean with six months’ pay in lieu of notice, which I will address in my next blog.

Conclusion

If an employer engages in malicious conduct during the termination of an employee, this conduct may be sanctioned by a court.

If your employer engages in similar behaviour to the behaviour described in this blog, such as making frivolous allegations that may impact your ability to gain re-employment, you should consult an employment lawyer to find out about your rights.

“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.”

How Important Are The Deadlines In Your Severance Package?

By , December 6, 2018 1:43 pm

You are terminated from your job and your employer offers you a severance package. They give you one week to sign the offer and ask that you sign a full and final release confirming that there will be no further payments. Are you obligated to sign and return the offer within a week?

We often receive this question from recently terminated employees who are scrambling to find legal advice within a few days while also dealing with the stress of their termination.

If we are first contacted close to the deadline we often advise employees to simply request an extension from their employer. In our experience, the vast majority of employers will consent to this request. It is important to remember that it is in your employer’s best interest to reach a reasonable deal with you.  Just because you do not sign and accept their severance package before the deadline, does not make their legal obligations to you disappear. Further, the deadline is only important if you are accepting the offer.

You should have your severance package reviewed by a lawyer before accepting it because, in many cases, it is possible to negotiate a better severance package. It is not unusual for employers to offer severance packages that barely meet the minimum standards set out in the Employment Standards Act. You may be entitled to considerably more pay than the minimum standard.  Even if have signed an employment contract with a legally enforceable termination clause, it is possible that you could be entitled to a large severance package because of conduct that occurred during your employment such as harassment and discrimination. Unless you are certain that their severance package is fair you should not sign a severance offer and release until you have consulted with a lawyer.

At least one Ontario judge has unfavourably viewed stringent deadlines requiring an employee to sign a severance package and release.  In Rubin v. Home Depot Canada Inc., 2012 ONSC 3053 the Court found that even though an employee had signed a “release” shortly after his termination, the release was not binding. The Court found that the employee had not been given sufficient time to consider the offer.  Ultimately the Court awarded him significantly more notice than his employer had offered him.

Lessons for Employees:

  1. If you need more time to obtain legal advice ask your employer for an extension to sign the severance package, particularly if you are given less than 5 business days to consider the settlement offer.
  2. Always consider having your severance package reviewed by a lawyer because it is possible you could be entitled to a greater notice period. Especially if you are a long service employee. Remember: you don’t know what you don’t know.

If you would like to speak to an employment lawyer at the MacLeod Law Firm, you can reach us at [email protected] or 647-204-8107.

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.

Working Notice: When working more than 9 to 5 makes it hard to find a way to make a living

By , November 19, 2018 10:00 am

Sometimes, rather than receiving a severance package, employees are provided “working notice” that their employment is coming to an end. In other words, your termination date is set to a fixed date in the future and you are expected to work throughout this period.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with providing working notice, there are some circumstances where a court may find the employer should not get credit for this notice period, and therefore should provide pay in lieu of notice instead. The Ontario Court of Appeal has recently decided that there is a qualitative component to reasonable notice. In other words, that the quality of the reasonable notice is important in addition to the quantity of notice an employee receives.

Wood v CTS of Canada Co.

On April 17, 2014, CTS of Canada Co. (“CTS”) gave written notice to employees that it was closing its Streetsville plant and that their employment would terminate on March 27, 2015. It subsequently extended the termination date for most employees to June 26, 2015. A class action was brought on behalf of 74 former employees against CTS of Canada Company. On issue was the adequacy of the notice of termination given by CTS.

The motion judge concluded that CTS was not entitled to credit for working notice for any week in which an employee worked overtime contrary to the ESA, or in which the employee was forced to work overtime that had a significant adverse effect on the employee’s ability to look for new employment.

The motion judge noted that according to the Employment Standards Act, no employer shall require or permit an employee to work more than 48 hours in a work week (unless the employee has agreed in writing and the employer has obtained the approval of the Director of Employment Standards). There was evidence that a group of hourly paid production employees worked approximately 55 hours a week during the notice period, contrary to the Employment Standards Act. The evidence also showed that the employees were not pressured to work and actually wanted to make more money. However, there was also evidence that 18 key employees were forced to work up to 60 hours per week.

The motion judge found that an employer that had employees work 16 hours a day during their notice period could not claim credit for working notice. To do so would be tantamount to saying “You had 8 hours a day to look for new employment and if you frittered it away sleeping, that was your choice.”

CTS had the onus to prove that it provided reasonable advance notice of termination. The motion judge concluded that there is both a quantitative and a qualitative component as to what is reasonable. If the primary objective of reasonable notice is to provide the dismissed employee with an opportunity to obtain alternate employment, to look for work, an employee needs both a reasonable aggregate notice period and a reasonable amount of time in the week.

On appeal, the employer argued that the “quality of the opportunity” is not a relevant factor in the determination of reasonable notice. The Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the motion judge’s determination that credit for working notice is dependent on the quality of the opportunity given to the employee to find new employment. The appellate court noted that the mere fact that the employee is required to work during the notice period does not automatically lead to denying the employer credit for a portion of the working notice period. Although an employee provided working notice period may have less time to look for alternate work, in some circumstances the fact that an employee is employed while job searching can improve the employee’s position when approaching prospective employers.

However, exceptional workplace demands on the employee during the notice period that negatively affect the employee’s ability to seek alternate work may warrant disentitling an employer from credit for some or all of the working notice period provided.

Takeaway for Employees

If you have been terminated and provided working notice and you are not sure whether what is being required of you during the notice period is fair, you should speak to a lawyer. Even if you are not being forced to work overtime, similar considerations with respect to quality could apply if you are not provided with time to attend job interviews. We can be contacted at [email protected] or 647-204-8107.

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.

What to do when you receive a release from your employer?

By , September 26, 2018 10:00 am

When an employee is terminated and offered a severance package, they are almost always asked to sign a release agreement in exchange. A release agreement, as the name suggests, releases the employer from liabilities for employment-related claims. Thus, after an employee has signed a release agreement, if they attempt to sue their employer later on, the release agreement is typically raised as a bar for the employee to proceed with litigation.

There are certain circumstances in which a court will not enforce a release. The Ontario Superior Court of Justice recently allowed an employee to proceed with claims against his former employer regarding long-term disability (“LTD”) insurance, even though he had signed a release in exchange for the severance package when his employment ended.

Facts

In Swampillai v Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance Company of Canada, Mr. Swampillai worked for the employer for several years before he became disabled from working and began receiving LTD benefits. After two years, the insurance company advised he was no longer qualified for benefits. Mr. Swampillai retained a law firm to appeal the LTD denial, and while that appeal was ongoing, the employer advised him that his employment was being terminated. His employer offered him an amount that exceeded his minimum entitlements under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“the ESA”) for pay in lieu of notice, and an additional lump sum amount for loss of benefits. Mr. Swampillai was told that if he did not accept the offer and sign the release, the offer would be revoked and he would only receive his ESA entitlements. After some negotiation regarding the amount for pay in lieu of notice, Mr. Swampillai signed the release, which purported to release the employer and insurance company from claims regarding his LTD benefits.

As a result, both the employer and the insurance company brought a motion for summary judgment asserting that the employee was not entitled to make any claim against the employer for disability benefits, or against the insurance company for the administration of those benefits.

Decision

The court found that the release was unconscionable as it related to Mr. Swampillai’s LTD claim, and that Mr. Swampillai was allowed to proceed with the LTD claim despite the language in the release that precluded him from doing so. In other words, although the court found the release was legally binding with respect to the pay in lieu of notice, the court declined to enforce the benefits aspect of the release because it was too unfair to Mr. Swampillai, a vulnerable employee.

The test for unconscionability has four elements:

  1. A grossly unfair and improvident transaction;
  2. The victim’s lack of independent legal advice or other suitable advice;
  3. An overwhelming imbalance in bargaining power caused by the victim’s ignorance of business, illiteracy, ignorance of the language of the bargain, blindness, deafness, illness, senility, or other similar disability; and
  4. The other party’s knowingly taking advantage of this vulnerability.

The court noted that there had not been money specifically allocated towards releasing the LTD claim, that the employer knew Mr. Swampillai was in the process of appealing the denial, and neither the employer nor the insurance company drew Mr. Swampillai’s attention to the fact that the release would bar him continuing in that process.

Lessons to be Learned

Although this story had a happy ending for Mr. Swampillai, it is important to highlight that generally speaking, courts do not take it upon themselves to intervene when people have been handed a raw deal. Therefore, when presented with a release, it is always recommended that you speak to a lawyer so you understand the true nature of the deal you have struck.

However, as this case illustrates, there may be instances where a court does intervene, particularly when dealing with a vulnerable employee.

If you have received a release and want to review it with a lawyer, or if you have cold feet after signing a release and want to know if there is any way around it, you can contact an employment lawyer at MacLeod Law Firm at [email protected] or 647-204-8107.

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.

Do I Have to Accept a Job Offer from the Purchaser of my Employer’s Business?

By , September 20, 2018 8:50 am

Ontario courts have mentioned time and time again that a terminated employee has a duty look for and accept comparable employment.

What happens when your employer is sold and the purchaser offers you employment?

A recent decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice provides some direction on when such an offer of employment can be rejected.

Dussault v. Imperial Oil Limited, 2018 ONSC 1168 

Mr. Dussault and Ms. Pugliese both worked in management positions for Imperial Oil Ltd. (“Imperial”). At the time of termination, Mr. Dussault had been employed for 39 years and Ms. Pugliese for 36 years.

In 2016, Imperial held a meeting where it shared plans to sell its retail business in Ontario to Mac’s Convenience Stores Inc. (“Mac’s”) and that many of its current employees would be offered jobs with Mac’s.

Both Mr. Dussault and Ms. Pugliese were offered positions with Mac’s. These offers were conditional upon both employees signing releases in favour of Imperial. The new offer stated that Mr. Dussault’s and Ms. Pugliese’s respective base salaries would remain the same for 18 months but their salary after this time was not revealed. Further, there was an explicit term where Mac’s would not recognize the decades of experience with Imperial.

If these offers of employment were accepted, Mr. Dussault and Ms. Pugliese would receive a lump-sum payment to make up for the reduction in value of their benefit plans. Imperial stated that the amount of this lump-sum payment would only be disclosed after they resigned from Imperial, accepted Mac’s job offer, and signed a release in favour of Imperial.

Both employees rejected Mac’s offer of employment as their terms of employment with Mac’s would be less favourable. Mr. Dussault was 63 years old and Ms. Pugliese was 57 years old when Imperial terminated their employment in 2016.

Decision

Justice Favreau concluded that Mr. Dussault and Ms. Pugliese did not have an obligation to accept employment from Mac’s to mitigate their damages. In coming to this conclusion, Justice Favreau first focused on the fact that Mac’s offer of employment was presented before employment with Imperial was terminated. Next, he decided it was not reasonable for the employees to accept Mac’s offers as Imperial imposed a requirement that a release be signed in order for the employees to receive their lump-sum payment. Justice Favreau viewed the requirement for the employees to surrender their right to sue Imperial as fatal.

Justice Favreau also found the requirement for the employees to accept an offer of employment that did not recognize their years of service with Imperial to be unreasonable. Finally, he found sufficient differences in Mac’s offer of employment that it was reasonable for the employees to reject the offer. Notably, there were issues surrounding a reduction in both benefits and salary.

In addition, Justice Favreau found that both employees were entitled to a whopping 26 months’ notice based on the exceptional circumstances of their respective cases.

Takeaways for Employees

  1. A terminated employee’s duty to mitigate does not require the person to accept employment with a purchaser of the business where that offer would significantly and negatively affect them going forward
  2. A requirement for employees to accept an offer of employment that fails to recognize their years of service with the former employer is likely unreasonable
  3. The timing of when the new employer offers a job is relevant; it is unreasonable to expect employees to start looking for alternative employment before they have had the chance to consider the new offer of employment

If you are being offered a new job in the context of a sale of your employer’s business, it is important to contact an employment lawyer to understand your duties and rights.

If you have questions or would like more information, you can contact an employment lawyer at MacLeod Law Firm. You can reach us at [email protected] or 647-204-8107.

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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