Are we or aren't we in an employment relationship?

Casual staffer terminated after leaving for training offered by employer

SEAN HONOWAY, a casual staffer at a small Saskatchewan-based ambulance service, was terminated after leaving for training offered by his employer.

The issue was not exactly a case of wrongful termination, but rather one of employment relationship status between Honoway and Northeast EMS, which operates under Medstar Ventures in Carrot River and Nipawin, Sask., according to arbitrator William Hood — who upheld the grievance.

Honoway was hired on as a primary care paramedic in 2005, and in 2009 was offered training to progress to a fully-licensed advanced care paramedic through the company. That would mean Honoway would undergo training at the Saskatchewan College of Paramedics, to wrap up in the 2010-2011 academic year. Honoway accepted the offer, and his last day of employment was in August of 2009.

However, in 2010, Honoway received another email outlining another offer of employment for the same full-time position. He was confused, as he had already accepted the 2009 offer, and so ignored the second communiqué.

Then, in 2010, the Health Sciences Association of Saskatchewan (HSAS) won a certification petition at the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board.

That meant that the union won the right to the represent the majority of workers at Medstar. A statement of employment from Medstar addressed Honoway’s position as a part-time worker.

Medstar eventually terminated Honoway, citing his lack of interest for the full-time position and that he had completed his training without any follow-up.

Another employee was hired to fill the full-time position.

According to his union, Honoway was fired without just cause. As well, it filed an unfair labour practice complaint at the provincial labour relations board. Withdrawal of the employment offer and reissuing dates are irrelevant, HSAS argued, and the sole important date was the date of termination.

The employer, on the other hand, argues the employment relationship with Honoway was only casual and, based on the back and forth, the relationship was one Honoway had lost interest in.

In the alternative, Medstar went on to say, if there had been a full-time employment relationship with the employee, then that relationship had been terminated prior to the labour board’s certification order. Just cause, in the employer’s view, was not the issue.

Hood disagreed.

An employment relationship indeed existed, he concluded, as Honoway’s acceptance of the 2009 offer is an enforceable employment contract – the conditions of which relied upon the employee’s return to school and complete training in late 2010, early 2011.

"The employee performed his obligations and it was the employer that reneged on its obligations pursuant to the contract," Hood explained, adding that there was no evidence to justify filling the full-time position with another employee.

"There was no ‘shortage of work’ simply because the employer hired another employee to fill the position offered in 2010. The only reason another employee was hired to fill the position is because the employer failed to honour its contractual obligations to the employee in the first place," he said.

As such, Honoway was ordered reinstated to the position of advanced care paramedic and made whole for any loss of pay, benefits and seniority resulting from the termination.

Reference: Medstar Ventures, Northeast Emergency Medical Services and the Health Sciences Association of Saskatchewan. William Hood — arbitrator. Gordon Hamilton for the employer, Marcus Davies for the union. Aug. 13, 2014..

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