There are few areas of employment law more in flux (and vexing to lawyers) than that surrounding the enforcement of termination clauses. Part of the frustration is when the Courts provide seemingly contradictory messages on whether termination clauses will be upheld. In January 2017 alone, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice released two decisions that appear, on their face, to be somewhat at odds.
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 recent years, there have been many decisions on the enforceability and interpretation of termination clauses in employment contracts—which employers and their legal counsel read with both interest and apprehension. The Nova Scotia Supreme Court has now weighed in on the debate.
It appears that the saga of judicial interpretation and consideration of termination clauses will continue, with predictably unpredictable results. Courts will enforce termination clauses that limit an individual’s entitlement to notice of dismissal, but the onus will be on the employer to show that the clause should be enforced.
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.
The issue of whether termination clauses contained within employment agreements will be enforceable is one that routinely arises. As I have discussed on many occasions, many employers weaken their legal position by entering into a verbal agreement, or presenting an “offer letter”, and then subsequently asking their new employee to sign a far more detailed employment agreement that is designed solely for the benefit of the employer.
With 2015 just around the corner, it is useful to reflect on the year that has just past and is coming to a close. 2014 had a number of significant employment law developments and below we have…
The Employment Standards Act in Ontario is legislation designed to protect the rights of all workers in the province. Under section 3, the Act specifies that it applied to any employee in the Province of Ontario, or any employee who is performing work outside of Ontario that is “…continuance of work performed in Ontario.” The Act contains numerous protections for Ontario employees, such as limiting the maximum hours of work in a week, providing an entitlement to overtime pay, and creating entitlements such as parental leave, vacation and personal leave. The Act also provides for the employee’s rights in the event of a termination of employment. Many employers have perceived these entitlements as onerous in some circumstances. In order to attempt to avoid such payments, or other obligations under the Act, employers have sought to have employees sign contracts containing provisions which purport to surrender the employee’s rights under the Act. This is generally referred to as “contracting out”.
A recent judgment of the New Brunswick Court of Appeal has once again affirmed the importance of carefully drafting termination clauses in employment contracts. In this case, the Court upheld a trial judgment that a termination clause which purported to limit the employee’s notice entitlement to 20 days was not enforceable. The Court of Appeal’s […]
Those of us that practice employment law understand that our Courts will not hesitate to deem a termination clause in an employment agreement unenforceable if they are provided with a reasonable basis upon which to do so. In recent times, we have seen two noteworthy cases that have dealt with termination clauses and been decided in favour of the employee. Employers and their counsel should be mindful of these cases as they implement employment agreements, if they hope to be able to rely upon them.