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Worker fired after driving drunk, totalling company vehicle

Threshold for establishing just cause for dismissing long-term employees with good records high – but there is a threshold

By Jeffrey R. Smith

Employers can benefit greatly from long-term, loyal employees who have been with the company for many years without any problems.

Years of experience with the same employer can bring a lot of knowledge and experience that can’t be replicated any other way. Someone who hasn’t caused any problems makes things easier and hopefully sets an example for other employees as well.

But what happens when a long-term employee, who has a spotless record, commits serious misconduct? How should an employer handle it? When the misconduct is damaging to the company and would normally invite instant dismissal, does a lengthy previous record of good conduct come into play?

A few years ago, an Ontario company was faced with this dilemma when a vice-president, who had been with the company for 23 years, had a few drinks at lunch after a meeting with a client. He was driving back to the office in a company truck when he lost control and totalled the truck. He also suffered serious injuries. Though the employee denied being drunk, he was charged with drunk driving and eventually pled guilty.

The employee had a spotless record over his 23 years with no discipline or performance issues. However, the bad judgment he displayed by drinking and driving while on duty violated the company’s policies and the loss of the truck affected its bottom line, not to mention potential damage to its image of having an employee in a company vehicle charged with drunk driving.

Despite his discipline-free employment record, the company decided the employee’s misconduct warranted dismissal. A court agreed, finding that normally an isolated incident wouldn’t be just cause for dismissal but, in this case, the misconduct was serious enough firing was an appropriate response.

There are many cases out there where employees with many years of service and good records had their dismissals overturned by courts and arbitrators, even though some — including the their employers — felt their misconduct was serious enough constitute just cause. However, there is a limit to what can save a long-time employee’s job and, as the above case shows, a dangerous activity that brings criminal charges would likely be beyond that limit.

Jeffrey R. Smith is the editor of Canadian Employment Law Today, a publication that looks at workplace law from a business perspective. He can be reached at For more information, visit

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Jeffrey R. Smith

Jeffrey R. Smith is the editor of Canadian Employment Law Today, a publication that looks at workplace law from a business perspective.
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