Health-care exec awarded five months’ notice for 18 months of service

Court finds experience required for position and expectation of permanent employment warranted reasonable notice of five months

A Saskatchewan health-care provider didn’t offer an executive enough notice when it fired him for budgetary reasons, the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench has ruled.

Pasquale Vettraino, 60, was hired on Oct. 24, 2003, by Sun Country Health Region, based in Weyburn, Sask., for the position of executive director of its mental health and addiction services. Sun Country also gave him $5,000 to help in his relocation from Calgary, which was “contingent upon return of service of two years.” Because he met the posted qualifications of 10 years of supervisory and management experience in the health-care sector, he was given vacation time equivalent to that of a 10-year employee.

Vettraino and his wife bought a house in Weyburn shortly after he began working with Sun Country, though his wife and daughter planned to remain in Calgary until the daughter graduated from high school in June 2005. In March 2005, they began looking for a larger house and sold their existing house in Weyburn with the agreement the new owners would take possession on July 15, 2005.

On May 26, 2005, Sun Country informed Vettraino his position had been eliminated for budgetary reasons and he was terminated effective immediately. It offered him three months’ pay and $2000 for relocation or re-employment counselling. Vettraino refused and Sun Country paid him two weeks’ salary plus accumulated vacation pay. He sued for wrongful dismissal, claiming he deserved notice more than was offered, because his expectation when he was hired was it would be for at least the two-year period stated for relocation expenses and his limited prospects for finding another similar job in the area.

The court found Vettraino’s job was “an important management position” and, despite the fact he only held the position for 18 months, the requirement of 10 years’ experience in a mental health care environment meant the “there would be limited opportunities for re-employment in this field in this geographical area.”

“It appears that there was an expectation of permanent employment at the time of hire as evidenced by the offer of up to $5,000 in relocation expenses contingent upon return service of two years,” the court said.

The court found Vettraino was entitled to reasonable notice equal to five months which, minus the severance already received, totaled $30,701.05. The court ruled Vettraino was not entitled to additional relocation pay as he still had a home in Calgary.

For more information see:

Vettraino v. Sun Country Health Region, 2007 CarswellSask 423 (Sask. Q.B.).

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