Contract can impose fees but not wage deductions, court says

Trucking company deducted cost of retrieving truck from fired employee and issued final paycheque of $0

A British Columbia trucking company should not have deducted money from a dismissed driver’s last paycheque to pay for the retrieval of a truck he took, the Federal Court has ruled.

Daryl Petersen was hired by MG Lund Trucking of Kamloops, B.C., on Feb. 21, 2006. When Lund offered Petersen the job, it advised him to read the employment agreements carefully and not to sign them until he understood them. Petersen signed the agreements without asking any questions.

The employment agreements stipulated Lund would deduct $100 from the driver’s pay for each document relating to a ticket, notice and order, roadside inspection or oversize permit that wasn’t turned into the company. They also said if the driver didn’t return his truck to the Kamloops depot upon his termination he would be charged $2 per mile for someone to retrieve it. Finally, it said the driver was obligated to return the keys to the company’s head office or else $300 would be deducted from the driver’s paycheque, which would be held until the keys were handed in.

On his first trip, Petersen was in an accident and was ticketed at a truck scale. When he returned, a discussion with his supervisor resulted in Petersen quitting. He told his supervisor he had no money and asked if he could spend the night in the truck. The supervisor agreed as long as the truck stayed in the yard.

However, Petersen drove the truck to Penticton, B.C. and called the company the next morning to tell them they could pick it up and the key was under the floor mat. The supervisor picked it up but couldn’t find the key. He used a spare set to drive the truck back to Kamloops.

The police were called and Petersen was charged with theft, later pleading guilty to taking a vehicle without permission. Lund issued him a cheque for $0, with payroll deductions for the cost of returning the truck to the yard.

A referee found the contract imposed a fee for the cost of the return of the truck but didn’t authorize a deduction of wages under the Canada Labour Code. It was also likely Petersen was under duress when he signed the employment agreements because he was broke and desperately needed a job.

The clause that stated the final paycheque would not be given to the driver until the keys were handed in was also “a drastic additional penalty inconsistent with the employment contract itself.”

The Federal Court agreed with the referee’s conclusions and upheld the decision that MG Lund was not entitled to make deductions from Petersen’s paycheque nor withhold his pay. See MG Lund Trucking Inc. v. Petersen, 2008 CarswellNat 3548 (F.C.).

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