When an employer chooses to terminate a worker’s employment, one the most important considerations is whether the termination is a wrongful dismissal or for just cause. Most terminations are wrongful dismissals, typically entitling the dismissed employee to both reasonable notice damages at common law and damages under the Ontario Employment Standards Act.
A dismissal for just cause occurs when an employee has fundamentally breached their employment contract. This is often established by demonstrating acts of dishonesty, gross insubordination, or a persistent neglect of their duty. When an employer can demonstrate that they have just cause for terminating an employee they are typically relieved from paying any reasonable notice or Employment Standards Act damages. Many employment cases before the courts turn on whether an employee was dismissed for just cause.
However, a recent case demonstrates that even when an employee is found to have been dismissed for cause at common law, they may still be entitled to damages. The case of Oosterbosch v. FAG Aerospace Inc. 2011 ONSC 1538 (Can LII) is interesting because the trial judge found that the employee’s conduct allowed a dismissal for just cause but still awarded damages under the Employment Standards Act. The court examined the difference in definition between just cause for termination at common law, and “wilful misconduct, disobedience or wilful neglect of duty that is not trivial and has not been condoned by the employer”, being the conduct that disentitles a dismissed employee to damages under the Employment Standards Act.
The trial judge in FAG Aerospace found that while the employer did have just cause to terminate employment, there was not sufficient evidence to conclude that the employee’s behaviour was “wilful misconduct, disobedience or wilful neglect of duty” to disentitle him to damages under the Employment Standards Act. It was accepted at trial that the employee was often late and was a poor performer at work despite numerous coaching sessions, but the judge concluded that this behaviour was not wilful on the part of the employee, but occurred simply through carelessness.
There are few employment cases that draw such a fine distinction between the common law and Employment Standards Act but FAG Aerospace demonstrates that proving just cause for termination is not the only consideration an employer should have when letting an employee go without offering severance.
Based in Kanata, the law firm of Connolly Nichols Allan & Snelling provides corporate & commercial, real estate, family, criminal and civil litigation services (including employment law advice for both employees and employers) in Ottawa and the surrounding area.