Appeal court revises punitive damage award (Legal view)

Treatment of wrongfully dismissed airport worker didn’t justify additional damages
By Jeffrey R. Smith
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/14/2011

An Ontario court has reduced wrongful dismissal damages against an employer that wrongfully fired an employee for abusing sick leave, finding $100,000 of the $500,000 award was unreasonable.

In 2003, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) was experiencing excessive absenteeism and abuse of sick leave by employees. One of the measures it adopted was to put employees suspected of abusing sick leave under surveillance. If it was able to determine an employee was abusing sick leave, the worker would be terminated.

On Oct. 31, 2003, a 47-year-old fleet co-ordinator with 23 years of service injured her knee while climbing out of a utility vehicle. She took a couple of days off and returned to work while planning to have physiotherapy. She didn’t need any significant modifications but did some small ones on her own, such as moving around when her knee became sore. However, the therapy didn’t help and, since her job involved a significant amount of walking and driving, she had arthroscopic surgery on her knee on Feb. 19, 2004. Her orthopedic surgeon gave her a medical note instructing her to take four weeks off work for recovery.