Ever since the Supreme Court of Canada decision in 2008 in a case Evans v. Teamsters Local Union, the courts have recognized the obligation of an employee, in certain circumstances, to accept an offer of alternate employment from their employer following dismissal. This has put many employees in the awkward position of determining whether or not the offer of employment is one that must be accepted based on the Evans’ reasoning. The difficulty faced by many employees’ counsel is the degree of difference in the position being offered, and whether such difference justifies the employee rejecting the offer of employment.
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”.
When advising a wrongfully terminated employee as to her legal rights and obligations, I always point out that a wrongful dismissal claim is not like winning the lottery. While employers are obligated to provide reasonable notice of termination or payment in lieu of such notice, terminated employees must make “reasonable efforts” to find new employment. As is often the case, the devil is in the details. What must a dismissed employee do to meet her obligation to mitigate? What have courts determined to be reasonable steps? What conduct has been held to be unreasonable? From whose perspective will reasonableness be judged–the employers or the employees?