Employer acts too quickly after employee throws tantrum, quits

Employee stormed out after altercation and employer assumed it was a resignation

An Ontario employer was too hasty in assuming an employee resigned when he left the office in a huff, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has ruled.

Barry Upcott, 54, was a production manager at Savaria Concord Lifts, a manufacturer of elevators and home accessibility products in Brampton, Ont. He joined the company in April 2000 and by 2008 was the most senior planning manager at the company.

On the morning of May 8, 2008, Upcott was doing extra work to fill in for another planner who was away that day. He had a heated conversation with a female co-worker over a special order for the company president’s son and when the co-worker didn’t show up for a subsequent meeting, Upcott found out she had complained to human resources about their argument. Incredulous, Upcott went to see the director of HR and, assuming he would be accused of doing something wrong, told the director he was “fed up.” Upcott threw his keys on the desk, said “I’m done” and walked out of the office.

The HR director asked Upcott to come back and talk, but Upcott refused and told him to get out of his way. Upcott retrieved some personal items from his desk, shook the hand of his supervisor, and told him, “I’m done; please call me when they solve the problem with (the co-worker).” He later claimed he had always been told to walk away and calm down when an altercation developed.

When Upcott got home, he left a message for his supervisor to arrange when to get the rest of his possessions still in the office. He also found his e-mail access had already been disabled.

In the early afternoon of the same day, Upcott’s supervisor and the HR director called him at home and advised him Savaria Concord was taking his comments and actions as a resignation and it would send him a confirmation letter. They didn’t ask for his side of the story and Upcott claimed he told them he didn’t resign, but said “I guess you’ve made your decision.” He said he assumed at that point the decision had already been made to terminate him.

The next day, Upcott returned to Savaria Concord’s offices to clean out his office. There was no further discussion about whether he resigned or was fired. He later filed a claim for wrongful dismissal.

The court found Upcott’s actions after the co-worker’s complaint were “a foolish fit of anger” that gave his employer a clear impression he wanted to quit his job. His words and actions were consistent with that assumption. However, it also found a reasonable, objective viewer of the circumstances should have understood Upcott had a “juvenile” fit of anger and would likely retract his resignation shortly thereafter.

However, Savaria Concord immediately accepted the resignation without deliberation. His email was quickly deleted and the termination letter drafted by the time management spoke to Upcott that afternoon. He wasn’t given an opportunity to tell his side or retract his resignation.

“(Upcott’s) conduct was irresponsible, foolish and petty but obviously so,” said the court. “(Savaria Concord) should not have immediately accepted (the resignation) but rather it should have deliberated on the words and actions of Mr. Upcott.”

The court found Savaria Concord wrongfully dismissed Upcott by accepting his hasty actions as final. Because of his age and position, it found he was entitled to seven-and-one-half months’ notice. See Upcott v. Savaria Concord Lifts Inc., 2009 CarswellOnt 4607 (Ont. S.C.J.).

Latest stories