Arbitrator awards $500,000 for bad-faith termination

Accusing long-term employee of sick leave fraud and firing her based on video footage over medical notes was unacceptable, says arbitrator

The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) has been ordered to pay in excess of $500,000 to an employee after an arbitrator accused her of abusing sick leave and firing her for it.

The employee, who was on medical leave for four weeks following surgery on her knee, was spotted on video surveillance performing activities the GTAA felt was inconsistent with her injury. When confronted with the videos, the employee insisted there were good days and bad days and she was still recovering. However, the GTAA pressured her to come back to work early despite recommendations from her physiotherapist and doctor she needed more time.

Upon further investigation of the video surveillance, the GTAA determined the employee had been dishonest about the extent of her injury and fired her.

Arbitrator O.B. Shime found the GTAA ignored medical opinions that she was recovering from surgery and used its own interpretation of what the videos depicted. Shime also found the GTAA’s treatment of her in the circumstances, considering she was a 23-year employee with no previous discipline, amounted to bad-faith conduct.

Shime ruled the GTAA’s actions were serious enough to warrant $100,000 in both punitive damages and compensation for the employee’s mental distress. In addition, given the employee’s age — late forties at the time of dismissal — and the psychological effects, Shime ordered the GTAA to pay her six years’ worth of salary and benefits since her termination and another two years for future loss until her retirement, estimated at more than $400,000.

For more on this case, see the upcoming May 19, 2010, issue of Canadian Employment Law Today.

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