In Wood v Fred Deeley Imports Ltd., the Ontario Court of Appeal seemed to make a definitive statement about the interpretation of termination provisions in employment agreements: a court will invalidate them when they contain actual or technical deficiencies. However, the same Court’s decision last year in Oudin v Centre Francophone de Toronto seemed to reach a different conclusion: the court will apply contractual certainty to give effect to the parties’ intentions. Can the two be reconciled? Closer inspection reveals that each decision is specific to the employment agreements in each.
I had a client recently ask why he would bother going through the cost and efforts of doing up an employment contract, if he was going to have to fight with ex–employees’ lawyers and pay out a package in a without cause situation anyway. Good question.
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.
To appreciate the dangers of varying employment terms, we must start with the foundations of contract law. First, a contract requires that each party receive a benefit (consideration). Second, if the parties agree to a variation of contract, but consideration is not received by both parties, Courts will consider the new contract an “unenforceable unilateral variation”. Third…
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”.
I recently attended the Law Society’s annual Employment Law Summit, which is always filled with top-notch employment lawyers providing valuable insight and practical advice on issues relating to employment law and human resources. Many of the discussions touched upon issues relating to the use of employment agreements, including termination clauses. The comments caused me to consider my own experiences in dealing with…