Author Archive - Simon Heath
Given the elimination of mandatory retirement years ago, employees are working for longer periods of time and well into their 60s and some into their 70s. Age has always been one of the key Bardal factors, in addition to title, length of service and compensation, that courts use to determine an appropriate common law notice period. In the recent case of Ozorio v. Canadian Hearing Society, 2016 ONSC 5440, Justice O’Marra confirmed that an employee’s age remains a significant factor in determining a common law notice period.
In a recent Ontario Superior Court decision it was held that an employer’s decision to request a criminal background check after employment had commenced was lawful under the applicable 12–month fixed term contract and the employee was not entitled to damages when her employment was terminated after she refused to consent to the background check.
In the recent decision Podobnik v. Society of St. Vincent de Paul Stores (Ottawa) Inc., the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) held that the Employer had reprised against the Employee when it terminated her employment after she had exercised her rights under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) to refuse unsafe work. The OLRB did not agree that the termination was the result of an legitimate organizational restructuring. Rather, it held that the Employee’s termination was motivated “at least in part” as a reprisal against her for exercising her rights under the OHSA in the weeks preceding her termination.
When a company promotes an employee, the employer should provide the employee with a new contract to sign prior to allowing the employee to commence his or her duties. In that way, the company is providing the employee with “fresh consideration” to make the contract enforceable. Consideration is the legal word for the exchange of something of value to make contracts enforceable and in a promotion it takes the form of the increased salary that comes with the new job. If the company allows the employee to be promoted and then has the employee sign an employment contract after the promotion has already taken place, there is a chance the employee can argue the terms of the contract that were not discussed pre–promotion should not be enforced for lack of fresh consideration rendering the terms of the contract unenforceable.
In wrongful dismissal litigation, one of the key issues is always the dismissed employee’s duty to mitigate. When an employee is terminated or constructively dismissed, he or she has a positive obligation to minimize his or her damages by seeking out comparable, alternate employment. Anything the employee earns in the common law notice period is subtracted from what the company owes. An issue that often arises is whether or not it was reasonable for an employee to refuse exploring a potential new job because of the length of the commute.
Huge wrongful dismissal damage award overruled by Ontario Court of Appeal on basis of misapplication of law of just cause dismissal
A 62 year old Mississauga teacher with 10 years of service experienced the joy of winning a huge damage award in the face of allegations of just cause at trial only to have the trial decision squarely overruled by a majority of the Ontario Court of Appeal with significant cost consequences to account for. While the Ontario Court of Appeal often gives Trial Judges significant deference in their decisions, the Court of Appeal found that the Trial Judge misapplied the facts to the proper law on just cause dismissal and overruled the entire decision and awarded the employer significant costs on both the trial and appeal.
The Ontario Court of Appeal weighed in, to some extent, on the hot issue of enforceability of termination clauses in a recent decision. In this case, the clause at issue was written in French. The Applicant argued that the Motion Judge’s interpretation of the clause only referred to “notice” and not “severance” and therefore the termination clause was an unlawful attempt to contract out of the Employment Standards Act because it did not expressly provide for the payment of severance and there are a number of cases suggesting such clauses are void.
Employment lawyers will advise you that a motion for summary judgement can be expensive to lose. Not only does the company have to pay the judgement, the company will have to pay the costs of its own counsel and part of the costs of the employee’s counsel. Therefore, there is pressure on the company to offer a suitable severance package to negotiate a settlement rather than leave it to a court to decide with the cost consequences that follow.
In 2016–2017, the Ministry of Labour of the Province of Ontario will continue to implement its proactive campaign of “blitzes” to ensure that the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”) and the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”) are followed. The various blitz campaigns are set to start May 2, 2016 and continue to run for more than one year until June 2017 in some cases.
This decision is another reminder to employers to ensure that termination clauses provide for all entitlements prescribed by the Employment Standards Act in order for them to be considered valid and enforceable. The company in this case should never have carved out its obligation to provide statutory Severance Pay.
Ontario Human Rights Commission released updated policy on “preventing discrimination based on Creed”
This past December the Ontario Human Rights Commission released a new and comprehensive 173 page Updated Policy on Preventing Discrimination based on Creed to replace its earlier Policy that was first published in 1996. The Commission stated that given the significant demographic changes in Ontario, it has been working on a new policy since 2012. The aim of the policy is to highlight how discrimination on the basis of Creed can be avoided in broader Ontario society which is increasingly more diverse.
Ontario court sends message of deterrence by sentencing project manager to 3.5 years imprisonment from preventable workplace fatalities
As most of you recall, on December 24, 2009, five construction workers fell from a stage swing on a residential building that was been used so that the workers could fix the concrete on the building. There were six workers on the platform but only two secure lifelines and only one of the workers had secured himself. When the platform split, four of the workers were killed and one miraculously survived the 100 foot drop albeit with serious injuries.
In the recent decision, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (“OHRT”) addressed the issue of when it would be reasonable for an employer to request an Independent Medical Exam (“IME”) from an employee during the accommodation process. The OHRT ruled that an employer request for an IME will be justified when it was “reasonable” in the circumstances of creating an individualized accommodation plan.
In the past three years there have been a number of cases arising from the Ontario courts considering whether or not termination clauses which purport to rebut the implied presumption of common law notice and limit an employee’s entitlements upon termination are enforceable. The enforceability of such clauses can have significant consequences on the quantum of an individual’s damages because an employee’s common law entitlements typically exceed his/her minimum entitlements under the applicable minimum standards legislation. The Ontario Division Court recently considered the enforceability of a termination clause in the federal sector in Luney v. Day Ross Inc., 2015 ONSC 1440.