Employment disputes can involve a variety of different areas of the law. Most employment issues revolve around the principles of contract. However, an employment dispute will also often include issues of human rights, insurance, workplace safety and pensions. Compensation for an employee can come from any one, or several, of these areas of the law.
The case of Zelsman v. Meridian Credit Union demonstrates the importance of not focusing on one area of the law while overlooking another. In that case the Plaintiff, who had been dismissed from her employment, applied for long-term disability benefits from her employer’s insurer and also filed a claim against her employer with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. The human rights claim was eventually settled. As is typical in such settlements minutes of settlement were signed by both parties. In the minutes of settlement the Plaintiff gave up certain rights in exchange for compensation from her former employer.
After the human rights claim was settled, the Plaintiff continued to advance her application for long-term disability benefits. Eventually, the insurer discovered that the minutes of settlement from the human rights claim specially addressed the Plaintiff’s entitlement to long-term disability benefits. On that basis the insurer denied the Plaintiff’s application for long-term disability benefits. The Plaintiff brought a motion disputing the insurer’s position but was unsuccessful. The court concluded that the minutes of settlement from the human rights dispute prevented the Plaintiff from making a claim for long-term disability benefits.
This case is an example of that fact that an employee may have multiple overlapping rights and the consequences of settling one dispute before another may not always be clear.
I recently changed roles at work. My new title is “Accounts Manager” and I am responsible for all the company’s accounts payable and receivable. I also help other staff price our products and develop new accounts. I am very happy about my new role but my job used to be “9 to 5” and now I have to work late and on weekends. I asked my boss about overtime but was informed that managers and supervisors do not receive overtime pay. Is this true?
For most employees in Ontario overtime hours start after 44 hours of work in a week. For every hour worked in excess of 44 hours an employee is supposed to receive time and a half.
Under the Employment Standards Act there are exceptions to the general rule including that managers and supervisors do not receive any overtime compensation. For this “manager exception” to apply, an employee generally needs to be performing work that involves the supervision of other employees in a leadership role as opposed working in general administrative duties. Also, the exempt employee must be working in the manager role the majority of the time while at work - not just every now and then. The fact that someone’s job title includes the word “manager” or “supervisor” does not determine their entitlement to overtime pay. Rather, it depends on what the actual duties of the employee are.
Although many job titles, such Accounts Manager, include the word “manager” this does not necessarily mean you don’t get overtime pay. If your job does not involve supervising other employees this is a good indication that you may be entitled to overtime compensation. For more information you can seek legal counsel or examine the Ministry of Labour’s website at http://www.labour.gov.on.ca/.
Work at my business has slowed down quite a bit this year. I currently have 11 employees but there is not enough work to go around. I should be getting a set of new contracts that will keep everyone busy this spring, but I’d like to make some temporary layoffs in the meantime to avoid having to let anyone go for good. I’ve discussed this with business colleagues who told me that temporary layoffs are not permitted for non-unionized employees. What are my options?
The law applicable to temporary layoffs in Ontario can be confusing. The Employment Standards Act does allow temporary layoffs of up to 13 weeks in a 20 week period. In certain seasonal industries, such as construction, temporary layoffs over the winter months are fairly common. However, in other workplaces courts in Ontario have treated temporary layoffs as constructive dismissals and have ordered employers to provide termination and severance pay.
In recent years, some Ontario court decisions have allowed temporary layoffs provided employers comply with both the Employment Standards Act and the terms of the employee’s contract. Depending on the nature of the work, such layoffs may even be permitted when an employee is working with an unwritten contract. A temporary layoff is also more likely to be permitted if an employee remains entitled to benefits and can access Employment Insurance during their time off. During any such layoff it is important to inform the employee that the layoff is temporary and to provide them with a return to work date. Finally, a temporary layoff should not be used as a form of discipline to punish an employee for misconduct – that will most certainly result in a claim for constructive dismissal.
I was just let go "without cause". What does this mean?
Prior to engaging in any litigious action, clients should have a grasp of not only their rights but those of the employer as well. What may not appear fair, maybe either contractually or legally legitimate. The term "without cause" is seen in most termination letters. There's a very clear reason for this.
The threshold for cause is high and, if the employer is unsuccessful in meeting that threshold, they then risk being subject to damages for wrongful termination inclusive of not only proper notice, but aggravated and punitive damages as well.
A prime example of this risk coming to fruition is seen in Ruston v. Keddco MFG. (2011) Ltd., 2019 ONCA 125. Ruston, former president of Keddco, was fired for cause. Keddco alleged that Ruston committed fraud. When Ruston indicated that he would be retaining legal counsel, Keddco advised him that, if he hired a Lawyer, it would counter-claim against him. They warned that the costs of litigation would be extreme to both parties.
Ruston ignored the threat and filed a claim against Keddco. Keddco followed-up on their promise and brought a counterclaim for $1.7 million. The lower court found that the allegations of fraud could not be proven. It was held that Ruston was wrongfully dismissed. He was awarded 19 months termination pay, in addition to $100,000 in punitive damages and $25,000 in moral damages. The costs award was $546,684. The total award, including payment in lieu of notice, was just below $1 million. The Ontario Court of Appeal dismissed the employer's appeal and withheld the lower courts ruling on these matters. Keddco's total losses would have far exceeded $1 million with their legal costs included.
Had Keddco simply terminated the employment without cause and relied on a properly drafted termination provision, Ruston's damages could have topped out at the Employment Standards Act entitlements. Without a contract, common law notice would have been subject to the soft cap of 24 months and early settlement would have been possible. Without the allegation of fraud and the subsequent counterclaim, Keddco's worst-case scenario would have likely been much better than the current end result.
This is an example of why employers are often advised to dismiss without cause, asserting the employer's right to do so and relying on properly drafted contract provisions to navigate the employees' entitlements upon termination.
So what does this mean for employees? Firstly, do not assume that your performance can no longer be factored into an award for termination pay. The employer can always argue "near cause" which has reduced awards in past decisions. Understand, however, that the most prevalent dispute in a without cause dismissal is the employee's entitlement, by contract and by law.
Employees who are terminated without cause, need to acknowledge that the employer has the right to do so. Nonetheless, they must do so while preserving your entitlements. Those entitlements should not be assessed by yourself or your employer. All aspects governing the employment relationship should be forwarded to a competent employment Lawyer. The employment Lawyer will indicate your entitlements and provide an honest opinion on the viability of disputing the package that was offered.
What does this mean for Employees and Employers?
Employees: Once terminated without cause, do not sign a full and final release without having a Lawyer review the employment relationship and confirm your actual entitlements.
Employers: Asserting cause is a risky position to take. Cost-benefit might weigh in favour of dismissing the employee "without cause." The allegation of cause cannot be retracted. Counsel should be sought prior to alleging cause.
Ruston v. Keddco MFG. (2011) Ltd., 2019 ONCA 125 (CanLII)
Ruston v. Keddco Mfg. (2011) Ltd., 2018 ONSC 2919 (CanLII)
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