Budget manager felt devalued by restructuring

Reporting structure and responsibilities were changed into new division

This instalment of You Make the Call features a city employee who claimed constructive dismissal after his division was restructured.

James Trueman had been employed by the City of Abbotsford, B.C., as its manager of budget and financial systems since 1995.

An employment agreement dated Jan. 5, 1996, outlined his duties as supervising the city’s budget, co-ordinating with all city departments and reporting to the director of finance.

In 2000, the city reorganized its departments. It also transferred its financial information system, which Trueman had been in charge of, to a new software system. This reduced the amount of time Trueman needed to spend on the system.

In May 2002, the city implemented a new, more streamlined budget system which would require Trueman to devote “no more than a month or two to complete each year.” Trueman viewed this as a change of his duties to simply producing budget documents similar to the previous year’s and “various accounting and bookkeeping functions.” He also felt the new system eliminated the need for his budget division and his position as its manager.

Though Trueman’s division was merged into financial services, the city said his duties were not reduced. Though he reported to the manager of financial services rather than the director as before, Trueman retained his title as manager of budget services, as well as his salary and responsibilities. The city said his job resembled his original position as a director of finance before the 2000 reorganization.

The city sent Trueman a letter on May 27, 2002, confirming his responsibilities, title and salary would not change, just the reporting structure and the budget division would be integrated into financial services. Trueman disagreed and testified the city’s organizational chart changed his title and some of his responsibilities with the financial information system had been transferred.

On May 29, 2002, Trueman took a leave of absence so he could consider the changes. On July 2, 2002, the city told him it needed to resolve the situation and know whether he was going to retire or stay on. It said if he didn’t contact them by the following day, it would assume he was claiming constructive dismissal and he would be terminated. Trueman didn’t reply and the city informed him he was terminated.

You Make the Call

Were the changes to Trueman’s position significant enough to constitute constructive dismissal?
Did Trueman resign by going on leave and not making a decision by the specified date?

If you said Trueman resigned, you’re right. The court recognized although there were some changes to Trueman’s job, they weren’t significant enough to be considered constructive dismissal.

The court found Trueman’s job title didn’t change and he would have remained as the person primarily responsible for budget preparation and planning and continued to manage employees in the financial division who worked on the budget. The only significant change was the loss of “his own division and the prestige of reporting to the director rather than the financial services manager.”

“A change in the manner in which Mr. Trueman is to carry out his employment responsibilities, as opposed to a change in those employment responsibilities themselves, cannot constitute a fundamental change to his contract of employment,” the court said.

The court ruled since the restructuring did not constitute a fundamental change in Trueman’s contract of employment, Trueman “was precipitous in resigning without determining how the changes would in fact affect his responsibilities.” It ruled his failure to return to work was a resignation from his job and he was not entitled to any damages in lieu of notice.

For more information see:

Trueman v. Abbotsford (City), 2006 CarswellBC 3032 (B.C. S.C.).

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