Bank employee’s firing followed procedure but was unfair, court rules

Adjudicator rules bank followed proper procedure in firing employee after promotion didn’t work out, but Federal Court finds it didn’t consider her years of service before the promotion

A Quebec bank branch unfairly dismissed an employee from a new job because it didn’t consider her total service, the Federal Court of Canada has ruled.

Sandra Sigouin worked for 20 years at a Montreal branch of National Bank, where she felt happy and comfortable in her job and had no performance or disciplinary issues. In mid-2005, the bank promoted her to the special loans department despite the fact she didn’t have the right qualifications or training to properly do the job.

The lack of qualifications soon caught up with Sigouin and she made several mistakes. The bank gave her a written warning that if she didn’t improve she would be let go. She accepted the warning and indicated her desire to improve, asking to take courses that would increase her qualifications.

However, in January 2006, after six months in the department, Sigouin made a major error when she didn’t renew a letter of credit, which cost the bank $850,000. The bank immediately fired her and gave her three months’ pay as severance.

Sigouin filed a wrongful dismissal complaint but an adjudicator sided with the bank, ruling it had followed proper procedure under the Canada Labour Code when it dismissed her.

She appealed to the Federal Court, which overturned the adjudicator’s decision. The court found the firing was unreasonable because it didn’t account for Sigouin’s 20 years of good service with the bank before she joined the special loans department. The bank should have tried to move her into another position before dismissing her completely, the court said.

“It is worth considering what message would be given to employees (by the dismissal),” the court said. “In these circumstances, it would be understandable that few employees would take the risk of applying for a promotion in the certain knowledge that their dismissal could follow if they were not up to the situation.”

The court sent the case back the adjudicator for a rehearing.

Latest stories