No legal breaks for employers

Court decision around just cause doesn't seem fair
By Todd Humber
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 06/21/2011

The Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in sports. In the employment world, proving just cause for termination in a Canadian court is the equivalent to hoisting the chalice — it’s not an easy thing to do.

But just when you’re ready to shout, “I’m going to Disney World” after winning a marathon case against a delinquent employee, along comes a judge to stuff the champagne cork back in the bottle.

Because, as the case covered in article #10579 shows, even when an employer proves just cause for termination, it may still have to dig deep into its pockets. In that case, FAG Aerospace fired a worker in Ontario who was producing inferior parts, sleeping on the job and showing up late for work.

The company had a solid progressive discipline policy, which it followed to a tee — kudos to its HR department. The court agreed it had just cause. Case closed, right?

Not quite. The court questioned whether or not the worker’s behaviour was “wilful misconduct.” It decided it wasn’t. Therefore, the worker, who had been on the job for nine years, was entitled to his statutory notice under Ontario’s employment standards laws. The total amount — $25,000.

That’s less than what he would have received under common law if the employer couldn’t prove just cause, but it’s hardly a pittance.

And it doesn’t seem fair. The bar for just cause is already set high. If an employer is able to prove just cause after following a solid, progressive discipline policy, throwing up an additional hurdle to clear — in the form of whether or not the worker’s action constituted wilful misconduct — is unreasonable.

It’s akin to asking the Stanley Cup champions, fresh from hosting the cup over their heads, to step back and play one more game — just to make sure they really did win it.

Canadian courts have, rightly, made firing workers for cause difficult. Employers shouldn’t be able to fire workers at will without compensation, like they can in many states south of the border. That’s not fair.

But awarding a worker who produced inferior parts, slept on the job and showed up late $25,000? It’s enough to make all employers abandon any pursuit of just cause, regardless of the circumstances. It won’t be worth their time in court and the legal fees to fight it.

Add Comment

  • *
  • *
  • *
  • *