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Posts tagged: MacLeod Law Firm

Wrongful Dismissal Update: Recent Case Law Increases Legal Uncertainty

By , January 8, 2019 10:04 am

Recently, it has become increasingly difficult for employment lawyers to assess an employer’s potential legal liability in connection with an employee termination. The law is pretty straightforward but predicting how a judge will apply the law to a specific termination is riddled with legal uncertainty.

A recent case involving a 54-year-old senior executive who earned about $275 000 a year who was terminated for just cause after 11 years service is a good case in point.

The Issues

The judge in this case decided three main issues; namely: (i) did Keddco Mfg. have just cause to terminate Scott Ruston’s employment; (ii) if not, how much notice of termination should he have received; and (iii) was Mr. Ruston entitled to any punitive damages or aggravated damages because of the way Keddco treated him?

The Law

When deciding whether an employer has just cause to terminate an employee and avoid paying termination pay, a trial judge is required to apply the test set out by the Supreme Court of Canada (the “SCC”) in a well-known 2001 case, as interpreted by the Ontario Court of Appeal in another well-known 2004 case.

If an employer cannot prove just cause, then the employee is entitled to receive reasonable notice of termination (or pay in lieu of this notice) unless the employee signed an employment contract with an enforceable termination clause. The test a judge applies to determine the appropriate reasonable notice period is set out in a 1960 court case.

Since the SCC clarified the law in 2008, trial judges have had jurisdiction to award employees punitive and aggravated damages.

The Decision

  1. Just cause: It is generally very difficult for an employer to prove just cause – especially for a long service employee with no prior discipline like Mr. Ruston. Alleging just cause and then leading very little, if any, evidence at trial really annoys judges. I believe unsubstantiated allegations of just cause results in longer reasonable notice periods, aggravated damages in some cases, and a higher cost award against the employer.
  2. Reasonable notice: Although the Ontario Court of Appeal has specifically directed trial judges not to apply the “one month notice per year of service” rule of thumb when determining the reasonable notice period, this rule of thumb has been a good place to start for employees like Mr. Ruston until the last couple of years. In this case, after an 11-day trial the judge concluded Keddco should have provided an 11-year employee with 19 months’ notice of termination or about 1.7 months per year of service.
  3. Punitive damages & aggravated damages: When the SCC issued its 2008 decision on punitive damages and aggravated damages, most employment lawyers believed it closed the door on these types of damages except in extraordinary cases. Now, however, there is much uncertainty as to whether a particular set of facts will attract punitive and/or aggravated damages. In this case, the judge awarded the employee $100 000 in punitive damages for a number of reasons including the fact that Keddco intimidated Mr. Ruston in the termination meeting,  threatened to sue Mr. Ruston for fraud, and led no evidence at trial to substantiate the fraud allegations. Keddco was also ordered to pay $25 000 in moral damages because, among other things, the employer failed to be candid in the termination interview as far as the reasons for his termination were concerned, made unsubstantiated allegations of fraud, and knew the fraud allegations would be very stressful for Mr. Ruston.

To my knowledge, this case has not been appealed.

Lessons to be Learned:

  1. Every employee should be required to sign an employment contract with a legally enforceable termination clause. In this case, the notice period could have been limited to 8 weeks in a contract, decreasing legal uncertainty. Mr. Ruston’s bonus accounted for about 41% of his total annual compensation. The termination clause can also restrict (or eliminate) the amount of bonus an employee is entitled to receive during the notice period, decreasing uncertainty. This kind of clause could have saved Keddco hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  2. An employer should not allege just cause unless it plans to lead credible evidence to substantiate the allegations. If just cause had not been alleged in this case, then the wrongful dismissal damages could probably have been decided by way of a summary judgment; not an 11 day trial. My guess is that if the parties cannot agree on legal costs, Keddco will be ordered to pay Mr. Ruston at least $100 000 in legal costs – although the cost order could be much larger.

  3. An employer should act in good faith when terminating a person’s employment. This should eliminate legal uncertainty and risk that a judge will order the employer to pay any punitive and/or aggravated damages, which totalled $125 000 in this case.  

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.

Will the Pay Transparency Act Narrow the Gender Pay Gap? Bill 57 Halts our Chance to Find Out

By , December 28, 2018 10:38 am

Despite pay equity and anti-discrimination laws, female workers in Ontario earn less than their male counterparts. To address this gender wage gap, shortly before 2018 provincial election the Liberal government passed the Pay Transparency Act (“PTA”), putting the onus on employers to publicly report gender pay to build fairer workplaces. It was scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2019.

The PTA would have created numerous requirements for employers regarding compensation disclosure and filing pay transparency reports with the government. Specifically, the PTA prohibited all employers from either directly or indirectly asking job candidates about past compensation. It also would have required that employers post a compensation rate or range for all publicly advertised job postings, while prohibiting employers from reprising against employees who make inquiries about compensation practices.

Shortly after the election however, Premier Ford halted the coming into effect of the PTA by way of Bill 57.

On December 6, 2018, Bill 57, the Restoring Trust, Transparency and Accountability Act, 2018, received Royal Assent. It delayed the implementation of the Pay Transparency Act, 2018 (“PTA”) from January 1, 2019 to “a day to be named by proclamation of the Lieutenant Governor.”

What is the Status of Ontario’s Pay Transparency Act?

It is not known when the PTA will come into force. If I were a betting person I would say not while Doug Ford is Premier.

Since the PTA has been postponed, employers are currently not required to create pay transparency reports and may limit their employees’ ability to disclose their compensation information.

Further, employers do not have to determine a compensation range before posting a job; they can continue to determine compensation rates based on a variety of factors such as the candidate’s experience and qualifications.

For more information on an employee’s pay transparency obligations, 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.

Will Changed Workplace Laws Increase Competitiveness for Ontario Businesses?

By , December 27, 2018 12:32 pm

“We’ve heard loud and clear from businesses across Ontario that job growth starts with cutting the burdensome, job-killing red tape that is driving jobs and investment out of our province … We are making Ontario open for business.” 

Premier Ford in his closing speech this October at the annual Ontario Economic Summit.

Less than 2 months later,  the Ontario government tabled Bill 66, Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, 2018.

Bill 66, an omnibus bill, is part of the Ontario Open for Business Action Plan and announces over 30 actions to make it easier for businesses to create jobs.

Bill 66 at Schedule 9 outlines, among other things, the proposed changes to Ontario’s Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”).

How Bill 66 Proposes to Amend the ESA

The changes Bill 66 makes to the ESA are intended to reduce regulatory burdens on businesses. Firstly, Bill 66 amends section 2 of the ESA so that employers no longer must display a poster that provides information about the ESA and its regulations in the workplace. However, the requirement to provide a copy of the most recent version of this ESA poster to each employee is retained.

Second, Bill 66 would remove the requirement for employers to obtain approval from the Director of Employment Standards for excess hours of work and overtime averaging. Specifically, Bill 66 would amend Part VII of the ESA so that a Director’s approval would no longer be required for employers in order to make an agreement that allows their employees to exceed 48 hours of work in a work week.

Further, Bill 66 proposes to amend Part VIII of the ESA to remove the requirement to obtain the Director’s approval for employers to make agreements which allow them to average their employees’ hours of work for the purpose of determining the employees’ entitlement to overtime pay. This means that for the purposes of overtime entitlement, an employee’s hours may be averaged over a period that does not exceed 4 weeks,  in accordance with the terms of an averaging agreement between the parties.

Bill 66 also proposes that existing averaging agreements be deemed to have met the requirements set out in the ESA. Therefore, such agreements would continue to be valid until it is revoked by the employer, employee, or the Director.

As a result of these changes, employers would no longer be required to apply to the Ministry of Labour for approval of their employees’ excess weekly hours of work and overtime averaging. Employers are for these changes because it provides for increased flexibility to manage employee shifts. Employee groups oppose these changes, believing that they could result in more hours and less overtime pay for workers.

Lesson To Be Learned

If Bill 66 becomes law employers should review their employment contracts to make sure employees agree to work excess hours if requested, and also make sure that employees agree that their hours can be averaged over 2 or more weeks for the purpose of calculating overtime pay. This will ensure that there are enough employees available to address surges in business, and reduce payroll costs in workplaces where there are ebbs and flows in hours of work. We would would be pleased to assist with this contractual review.

Although Bill 66 is not yet law, it is expected to proceed quickly through legislature, just as Bill 47 did. For more information on the impact Bill 66 will have on your business, 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.

Doug’s Top 10 Employment Law Stories of 2018

By , December 27, 2018 9:36 am

In 2018 there were many new developments in the employment law world.

Here are my top 10 stories of the year:

1. Bill 148 Bit the Dust

Ontario’s Employment Standards Act received its last major update in 2000. During the last three years, the Liberal provincial government consulted widely and introduced comprehensive changes to this law by way of Bill 148. After this year’s spring election, the PC government reversed almost all of these changes. See here and here for blogs on the to and froing on changes to Ontario’s minimum employment standards law.

Bottom line: the time that employers, human resources consultants, and employment lawyers spent on this process was all for nought and a law that needed updating has not really changed.

2. The Ontario Government is Now Selling Recreational Cannabis

In October 2018, Canada became the second country in the world to legalize the sale of cannabis. When edibles start being sold by the Ontario government in 2019, it will be difficult to detect cannabis use or impairment in the workplace. As a result, we recommend that all employers introduce or update its substance abuse policy and we can draft one for you. Here and here are links to blogs on this issue.

3. #MeToo is Alive and Well

In 2018, several senior executives in a number of industries were fired for sexual harassment. The public and employers are keenly aware of this issue. So are employees and as a result the number of complaints have increased. Employees in Ontario can file a complaint at work or file an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. See here and here for some of our blogs on this issue.

We recommend that every employer introduce a no-discrimination policy and we can draft one for you.

4. The Number of Workplace Harassment Complaints Has Skyrocketed

In the fall of 2016, Ontario’s health & safety law was amended to require Ontario employers to investigate any incident or complaint of workplace harassment and the investigator must be trained on how to investigate. Since that time, we have seen a significant increase in the number of complaints. Here is a link to a blog on this issue.

In 2018, the number of external, professional workplace investigators mushroomed and most are currently working at full capacity. We recommend that every employer make sure that one employee is trained on how to conduct a workplace investigation. We are offering a one day training session on February 14, 2019. For more information, contact Judy Lam at 647-204-8107.

5. The Uncertainty Around the Enforcement of Termination Clauses Continues

This story has been in my top 10 list for 3 years. Many wrongful dismissal cases involve a dispute as to whether or not the termination clause in the employee’s employment contract is enforceable. Despite numerous court cases on this issue (including several cases from the Ontario Court of Appeal) it is still difficult to predict whether a judge will enforce a termination clause in an employment contract. See here, here, and here for some of our blogs on this issue.

I sincerely hope our Court of Appeal will provide some clear guidance in this area in 2019. In the meantime, we can draft legally enforceable termination clauses for you.

6. Limiting Group Benefits for Seniors has Been Found to be Unconstitutional

There are provisions in Ontario’s human rights and employment standards legislation which permit employers to discriminate against employees who are 65 years old when it comes to providing coverage for some group benefits. Here is a link to a case which stated that these laws are unconstitutional.

We therefore suggest that you talk to your benefit provider to find out whether senior citizen employees are excluded from any of your group benefits.

7. Wrongful Dismissal Damages are Increasing for Older Workers

Since 1960, judges have been directed to take an employee’s age into account when determining the appropriate reasonable notice period. In 2006, mandatory retirement was eliminated in Ontario. Recently, a number of judges have suggested or implied that notice periods should be extended for employees over 60 years old and that these employees are not really expected to find alternative employment. Here is a blog on this issue.

8. Are Executives Entitled to Variable Compensation During the Applicable Notice Period?

Variable compensation makes up the majority of many senior executives’ compensation.  One issue that often arises when an executive is terminated is whether or not the employee is entitled to pay in lieu of this variable compensation during the applicable notice period. The employer says no because the employee has not done anything to achieve the results needed to trigger this compensation. However, Courts are not sympathetic to this kind of argument. See here, here, and here for cases where the employer’s argument was rejected by a judge.

The good news is that it is possible to draft contractual language that precludes an executive from receiving any variable compensation after his or her last day of active employment. Please contact me if you want to discuss how this can be accomplished.

9. Secretly Recording Conversations at the Workplace

Michael Cohen secretly taped Donald Trump and more and more employees are taping conversations in the workplace. In this age of social media and the use of a cell phone as a person’s appendage, I think this trend will continue. Depending on your perspective, doing so undermines the trust needed between employees and employers or is evidence that such trust does not exist. Managing this possible scenario is tricky. Here is a blog on this topic.

10. The Number of Employment Standards Act Audits is Increasing

In 2017, the Liberal government announced it was hiring 175 Employment Standards officers who would randomly visit 1 in 10 Ontario workplaces each year to make sure the employer is complying with the Employment Standards Act. As a result of the PC government’s hiring freeze not all of these people have been hired, however, these audits have begun on a more limited scale. A number of our clients have been randomly selected for an audit. If you receive notification that your organization has been selected for an audit we can help you prepare for the audit.

Fun Fact: In 2018 the MacLeod Law Firm was nominated as one of Canada’s top employment and labour law boutiques by the Canadian Lawyer Magazine and by the Canadian HR Awards.

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.

Workplace Investigations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act

By , December 11, 2018 10:17 am

The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) imposes several obligations on employers to investigate complaints of workplace harassment.  

When there is an incident or complaint of workplace harassment, OHSA requires the employer to conduct an investigation that is appropriate in the circumstances. An employer has a legal obligation to make the workplace safe so if there is any indication of behaviour that would make the workplace unsafe, the employer must address it. The investigation must be conducted by someone who has received information and instructions on how to conduct an investigation.

The OHSA requires that complaints of workplace violence or harassment, whether formal or informal, must be investigated. To reduce legal exposure and save costs, employers should ensure that at least one employee receives workplace investigation training.

When should an employer conduct an investigation?

Workplace harassment occurs when a person engages in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace which is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome. The definition of workplace harassment also includes sexual harassment.

Examples of workplace harassment include spreading malicious rumours or gossip, excluding or isolating someone socially, physically abusing or threatening abuse, making offensive comments or jokes, yelling or using profanity, constantly criticising a person, belittling a person’s opinions or displaying or circulating offensive pictures or materials.

Two of the most common examples of workplace harassment are bullying and sexual harassment.

Example 1: Bullying

A group of employees deliberately spread malicious rumours about a colleague’s personal life and make belittling comments about her physical disability. The employee does not file a formal complaint but her supervisor witnesses her colleagues engaging in this conduct.

Example 2: Sexual Harassment

An employee is subject to repeated jokes and comments about his sexual orientation. He files a complaint with his human resources representative.

What are an employer’s obligations in these circumstances?

Under OHSA, the duty to investigate will be triggered by “incidents” of workplace harassment, even if there is no formal complaint. The Code of Practice produced by the Ministry of Labour suggests that the obligation arises whenever a supervisor becomes aware of an incident, even if the supervisor fails to pass that information on to the employer.  When the employer becomes aware of an incident of harassment, a trained investigator must complete an investigation and provide the employer with a written report of the results of the investigation.

Consequences of a failure to investigate?

Failure to investigate or appointing an untrained investigator could result in the Ministry of Labour ordering the employer to hire an external investigator at the employer’s expense. External investigators are typically very costly. Further, despite their high fees, there is currently a shortage of workplace investigators.

Failing to conduct a proper internal investigation could not only have consequences under OHSA, but could also lead to costly consequences at both the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and the Courts.

If an employer does not have an internal investigation procedure then an employee is much more likely to file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal where an employer can be ordered to pay damages for failing to conduct an adequate investigation. Courts have also ordered employers to pay punitive damages for conducting faulty investigations.

Workplace investigations training

On Thursday February 14, 2019 we will be hosting a Workplace Investigation Training Session. This session will be moderated by  Monica Jeffrey of JMJ Workplace Investigation Law LLP. The cost is $399 plus H.S.T. for the day. Registration is limited. If you are interested in attending please contact us at 647) 204-8107 or at [email protected]

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