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Posts tagged: employment contract

Valuing Employee Pensions in Wrongful Dismissal Cases: A Boring but Important Issue

By , November 6, 2018 10:18 am

A long service, older worker is terminated. Under the terms of the individual’s pension plan, the employer is not permitted to continue his participation in the pension plan. So the question arises: when calculating wrongful dismissal damages, how do you calculate damages for pension benefits?

A recent case considered this question.

The Facts

Imperial Oil Ltd. terminated Donald Dussault’s employment after 39 years of service when he was 63 years old. Imperial Oil immediately discontinued Mr. Dussault’s participation in its pension plan and Mr. Dussault decided to start collecting his pension benefits.

A judge concluded that Mr. Dussault was entitled to compensation in lieu of 26 months’ notice of termination. One component of his compensation was his pension.

Commuted Value of Pension

Imperial Oil called an expert witness who concluded that Mr. Dussault’s pension was worth $189,117 more than if Imperial Oil had kept him in its pension plan for the 26-month period after his termination. Mr. Dussault did not call an expert witness of his own on this issue.

Employee Claim for Damages for the Employer’s Contributions to his Pension During Notice Period is Denied

Since Mr. Dussault would have been enrolled in the pension plan if Imperial Oil had provided him with 26 months’ notice of termination, and since Imperial Oil would have made contributions to his pension during this notice period, Mr. Dussault sought damages equal to these contributions. The court concluded that the value of his pension was higher than if Imperial Oil had continued paying into his pension plan until the end of the 26-month notice period. However, the court refused to order the requested damages because Mr. Dussault could not prove any damages.

Employer Claim to Reduce Employee Damage Award by the Value of the Pension Benefits he Received During the Notice Period is Denied

Mr. Dussault collected pension benefits during the 26-month notice period. Imperial Oil asked the judge to deduct this amount from Mr. Dussault’s wrongful dismissal damages. However, the judge refused to do, concluding that pension benefits are a benefit employees have earned for their years of service and are not meant to be an indemnity for the loss of employment.

Lessons to Be Learned

  1. Every employer should require all employees to sign an employment contract with a legally enforceable termination clause. In this case, Imperial Oil could have reduced a 26-month common law reasonable notice period to as little as 8 weeks’  termination pay and 26 weeks’ severance pay. This is another case where a judge concluded that the common law notice period was more than 24 months.
  2. For long-service employees who are entitled to a lengthy common law reasonable notice period, damages for a reduced or an enhanced pension can be significant. I have represented clients who have not taken pension benefits during the notice period and the value of lost pension value (as opposed to an enhanced pension value in this case) has been significant.
  3. When valuating pension benefits, it is important to retain an expert. A slight change in actuarial assumptions can result in significant differences in a pension’s valuation.

For almost 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.

Another Example of a Senior Executive Being Awarded More Damages Than Expected

By , August 21, 2018 10:45 am

A recent case decided by the Ontario Court of Appeal demonstrates yet again that relying on informal understandings with an employee about their rights on termination is a very bad idea.

In this case, a 51-year-old President was terminated after a little more than 11 years of service.

Judge Concludes 51-year-old Employee with 11 Years Service is Entitled to 17 Months Notice of Termination

The employee did not sign an employment contract so he was entitled to reasonable notice of termination. A well drafted termination clause would have limited the employer’s exposure to 8 weeks notice of termination. Without it, the trial judge concluded he was entitled to 17 months common law notice of termination.

Court of Appeal Concludes the Employee was Entitled to a Bonus Despite the Employer’s Past Practice

The employee claimed he was entitled to a bonus during the 17-month notice period. The trial judge disagreed. However, the Court of Appeal overturned the trial judge’s decision on this issue. The Appeal Court concluded that even though the employer’s practice was not to pay a terminated employee a bonus, he was nevertheless entitled to a $166,945 bonus. In this regard, the Court restated the law as follows:

  1. Was the bonus an integral part of his compensation package, triggering a common law entitlement to damages in lieu of bonus?; and
  2. If so, is there any language in the bonus plan that would restrict his common law entitlement to damages in lieu of a bonus over the notice period?

Lessons to be Learned:

  1. All employees, but especially high paid executives, should be required to sign an employment agreement with a termination clause. Reasonable notice periods for older employees seem to be going up and often exceed one month per year of service. 
  2. All variable compensation plans should clearly set out an employee’s rights under the plan when his or her employment is terminated. There are several recent Appeal Court decisions which have strictly read contractual language against the employer. These plans should be reviewed by an employment lawyer regularly.

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.

Is an Employer Required to Provide a Bonus to an Employee Who is Not Employed on the Date the Bonus is Paid?

By , July 31, 2018 1:05 pm

What is an employer’s responsibility to pay bonuses to an employee who resigns after the year in which he or she earns a bonus, but before payment has occurred?

The Ontario Court of Appeal (“OCA”) tackled this question once again in Bois v MD Services, 2017 ONCA 857.

Facts

The appellant, Mark Bois, worked for the employer for approximately 14 years. Mr. Bois was awarded bonuses under his employer’s Variable Incentive Plan (“VIP”), where a bonus was payable in equal installments over the 3 years following the calendar year for which the bonus was awarded.

Mr. Bois resigned in 2011, before the payout dates for the third installment of his 2009 bonus and two installments of his 2010 bonus. Mr. Bois started an action seeking these instalments, which amounted to nearly $115,000.

The employer’s VIP contained provisions regarding entitlement to payments. Further, a letter from the employer, signed and agreed to by Mr. Bois, stated:

In any given year, you must be a permanent employee of the CMAH Group of Companies on December 31 of the year for which the incentive is paid and continue to be so employed on the payment date(s) to receive a payment. Any employee who is no longer employed with the organization or has given notice of termination prior to the payout date will not be eligible to receive a payment.

The issue in this appeal was whether the requirement to “continue to be so employed”, as per the employer’s VIP, conflicted with the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”).

Mr. Bois argued that the effect of s. 11(5) of the ESA was to accelerate his employer’s obligation to pay out future installments, regardless of the language in the VIP. Further, he argued that that the VIP disentitling him to future instalments was a violation of ss. 13(1) of the ESA.

Analysis

The Court held that the requirement of continued employment in the employer’s VIP did not conflict with the ESA and Mr. Bois’s appeal was dismissed.

The OCA agreed with the lower court’s interpretation that the VIP requires an employee to continue to be employed with the employer on the date of the bonus installment payout to receive the installment. Since Mr. Bois resigned before the incentive pay date, he became ineligible to receive the bonus payment.

The Test and Previous Cases Finding for the Employee

In a Paquette v. TeraGo Networks Inc., 2016 ONCA, which we wrote about here, the OCA found that the relevant provision in employee’s contract did not limit the employee’s claim to the bonus. The contract simply stated, that the employee must be “actively employed by TeraGo on the date of the bonus payout”. The Court looked at more than if the term “actively employed” was ambiguous. Rather, the wording of the bonus plan was viewed broadly in determining that the employee’s award was not to be limited.

The court outlined a test to determine whether a terminated employee is entitled to damages on account of a lost bonus. The court will ask:

  1. does the employee have a common law right to damages for breach of contract that would include compensation for a lost bonus?
  2. is there language in the bonus plan that unambiguously alters the common law entitlement?

In another case where the court found for the employee, the employee was entitled to the bonus for the time he worked, as well as what he would have earned during the 18-month notice period. Read more about this case here

A third decision that found for the employee is Lin v OTPPB 2015 ONSC, which we wrote about here. The court held that the employer’s annual incentive plan was integral to the Mr. Lin’s compensation. The court reiterated that there are different types of bonuses and in this situation, the bonus was significant and non-discretionary. Even though Mr. Lin was not working with the employer at the time the bonus compensation was paid, he was entitled to bonus income that he would have earned during the reasonable notice period.

What Do These Inconsistent Decisions Mean?

The Bois case seems to be in line with the principle of freedom of contract. the Court stated that it is open to the parties to agree how and when any bonus was declared, earned, accrued and would be payable. As shown above, however, not all judges consistently apply this principle in the employment law context.

This begs the question, when will contractual language purporting to limit an employee’s right to bonus pay be enforced?

Previous cases illustrate a variety of factors to consider. Not only should employers use clear language and unambiguous provisions, employers should also consider the type of bonus it is. Considering the increasing complexity in this area, employers should consult a legal professional to determine the sufficiency of their contractual provisions on bonus awards.

We note that the OCA sided with the employer in the Bois case where the employee resigned whereas the OCA sided with the employee in the Paquette and Lin cases where the employee was terminated. The court in Bois stated that Mr. Bois had notice of the active employment eligibility requirement and knew (or ought to have known) that when he resigned, he would forfeit his bonus award.

If you are looking for experienced employment lawyers to review or draft your bonus entitlements provisions, contact us at [email protected] or 647-204-8107 and one of our lawyers would be happy to assist you.

For 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.

The Benefits of Failsafe Provisions

By , July 17, 2018 8:53 pm

The Ontario Court of Appeal recently released a decision on the enforceability of termination clauses in employment agreements that contain failsafe provisions.

Background

A “failsafe provision” is a portion of a termination clause that provides that, regardless of what the termination clause provides, an employee who is terminated on a without cause basis will always receive at least the minimum notice of termination, benefit continuation and severance pay the employee is entitled to receive under employment standards legislation.

Amberber v IBM Canada Ltd.

Mr. Amberber’s employment contract contained a termination clause that entitled him to notice of termination equal to the greater of (a) one month’s salary, or (b) one week of your current annual base salary, for each completed six months worked since his start date, up to a maximum of 12 months’ salary. This amount expressly included all payments to which the employee might be entitled under employment standards legislation and at common law. This part of the clause, which the motion judge termed as the “options provision,” was followed by a failsafe provision.

After he was terminated, Mr. Amberber sued IBM Canada Ltd. (“IBM”) for wrongful dismissal and claimed he was entitled to pay in lieu of notice at common law. At the motion, Mr. Amberber advanced three arguments. The motion judge only gave effect to one of the arguments: the termination clause failed to rebut the presumption of common law reasonable notice of termination.

The motion judge found that although the termination clause was one paragraph, it broke down into two parts. The inclusive payment provision immediately followed the options provision, so the motion judge interpreted that the provision applied to the first part. Because the inclusive payment provision was not repeated at the end of the clause, it was not clear that the inclusive payment provision was meant to apply to the failsafe provision. The motion judge found that the inclusive payment provision could just as easily have been included at the end of the paragraph and could have just as easily been specified to apply to both scenarios.

On appeal, the motion judge’s decision was overturned. The Ontario Court of Appeal found that the motion judge made a fundamental error when she subdivided the termination clause into what she regarded as its constituent parts and interpreted them individually. Rather, the clause must be interpreted as a whole, and when read as a whole, there could be no doubt as to the clause’s meaning. To hold that the inclusive payment provision applies to only one part of the clause but not the other, gave the clause a strained and unreasonable interpretation. The Ontario Court of Appeal reminded judges that the court should not strain to create an ambiguity where none exists.

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.

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.

 

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