Supervisor hits the road after travel increases

Store supervisor complained about significant increase in travel but company said she should have been doing it all along

This instalment of You Make the Call features a regional store manager who claimed she was constructively dismissed when her employer increased her business travel expectations.

Monica Antworth was a district manager for Fabricville, a fabric distributor with retail stores in Eastern Canada. She started as a store manager in Fredericton and when she became a district manager, she maintained her office there since she had a family.

From the time she was appointed a district manager in 1987 until 2004, she supervised the operations of stores in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. She visited each store about once a month, which required travelling about five days each month.

In December 2004, Antworth was given new stores, including one in Montreal. Antworth’s travel time increased to nine days a month. Antworth sent a written memo to Fabricville management expressing her concerns, but the changes were implemented anyway.

In November 2005, Antworth met with the head supervisor for a performance review. She was told she should be visiting each of her stores at least twice a month. “Visit your stores at least 2 X a month” was written in the review.

In January 2006, Antworth expressed her concern about this requirement, since visiting each store twice a month would require travelling almost every day. Fabricville said it was a realistic requirement all supervisors were expected to meet. Antworth indicated she would continue with her regular travel schedule until she received written notice of the new requirements. The company reiterated the store visitation requirement and asked for a new schedule by the next day. Antworth didn’t comply and claimed Fabricville constructively dismissed her by changing her job.

Fabricville said supervisors needed to be “on the floor” at their stores and should be out visiting them most days. The company said it had been unaware Antworth had previously only travelled five days a month as supervisors were expected to do more. It also said the twice-monthly visits to each store was a recommendation and she could become a store manager at the same salary if she couldn’t handle supervisory duties.

You Make the Call

Did Fabricville constructively dismiss Antworth by changing the travel requirements of her job?
OR
Was Fabricville reinforcing job requirements that Antworth should have been performing?

If you said Fabricville changed Antworth’s job requirements and constructively dismissed her, you’re right. The court found there had been no mention of the twice-monthly visits before November 2005 and it was unlikely it was unaware of how much travel time she spent before then since it reviewed her expense accounts.

The court also found it unlikely the requirement to visit stores twice a month was a guideline, as the memos and performance review made it clear she was expected to comply.

“It was clear both from the tone of the (head supervisor’s) letters that she had no appreciation of Antworth’s concerns and no sympathy for them,” the court said. “The only acceptable solution was for Antworth to do as she was told.”

The offer of a store manager position was not a viable option for Antworth, the court found, because a typical manager’s salary was significantly less than Antworth’s pay, despite what her supervisor told her.

The court ruled Fabricville significantly changed her job duties and constructively dismissed her. Since she had been with the company for 21 years, it determined she was entitled to 22 months’ pay in lieu of notice.

“The changes made to Antworth’s schedule would have had a great impact on her life,” the court said. “Antworth tried to make her supervisors see that these changes would affect her greatly but they would not even discuss her problem let alone accommodate it.” See Antworth v. Fabricville Maritimers Inc., 2009 CarswellNB 80 (N.B. Q.B.).

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