A recent decision from the Ontario Court of Appeal dealt with the unusual situation of a defendant employer arguing that its own contractual termination provision was unenforceable and thus the plaintiff employee was entitled to common law reasonable notice. Employees frequently challenge the enforceability of a termination provision to seek common law notice, however, it is rare that an employer would do the same.
Wood v Fred Deeley Imports Ltd.
When an employee is terminated without cause and offered a package that is very modest, but otherwise compliant with the employment contract, a common first step for his or her lawyer will be to see if the contract can be set aside. If the contract can be declared void, the employee can try to pursue the typically much greater common law damages. There are several grounds upon which courts have set aside either the full contract or at the least, the termination provision. This blog post will focus on the issue of signing the contract prior to the start date.
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.