In a recent case, Levinsky v. The Toronto-Dominion Bank 2013 ONSC 5657, an Ontario court confirmed that it is possible to draft contracts that allow employers to “claw back” compensation owed or paid to employees if an employee resigns from their employment. The court also provided guidance on how to prevent such clauses from being rendered void for unduly restraining trade.
Mr. Levinsky was a highly paid vice-president of TD Bank who resigned to start his own hedge fund in 2010. The Long Term Compensation Plan (LTCP) established by TD Bank provided Mr. Levinsky with Restricted Share Units (RSUs) in addition to his base compensation. These RSUs however only became payable once they had matured over a period of three years. The LTCP also provided that if an employee resigned before the end of these three years they would forfeit any of the RSU compensation that had not already been paid.
When Mr. Levinsky resigned his employment he argued that the contractual clause allowing TD Bank to withhold compensation was void as it “restrained trade” by preventing him from leaving TD Bank to set up his own business.
Determining whether the terms of an employment contract unduly restrict trade is a common issue in employment law disputes. Restraint of trade arguments are most commonly advanced against non-competition clauses that may prevent a departing employee from competing against the employer they have departed. In the Levinsky case the court determined that the clause forfeiting Mr. Levinsky of his RSU compensation did not restrain trade, it was merely an element of the agreement between Mr. Levinsky and TD Bank.
In its decision the court emphasized the fact that although the compensation forfeited by Mr. Levinsky was significant it was only a portion of the total compensation he received for his service. To determine whether a particular contractual clause constitutes a restraint of trade the court held that each clause had to be analyzed on the basis of whether the forfeiture of compensation resulted just from an employee’s resignation, or whether it also somehow prevented departing employees from certain courses of business conduct following their departure. In Mr. Levinsky's case the court found the clause in question did not restrict Mr. Levinsky's activities following his resignation.
Frequently Asked Questions
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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My employer has again asked that I work in a foreign country. I am concerned that this posting is unsafe. Last time I worked abroad multiple bombings took place and several governments closed their embassies. I also had my personal belongings stolen while I was in what was supposed to be a secure area. Do I have to go work in this country? If I do is my employer required to provide travel insurance in case something goes wrong?
The first thing to look at is your employment contract. Most employment contracts contain both written terms, and unwritten terms that are implied into the contract by law. The written portion of an employment contract usually mentions the benefits and insurance coverage that an employer is required to provide and it may also mention work locations and travel.
Unless travel insurance is covered in the original contract, or has since been agreed to by the employer, an employer generally cannot be forced to provide travel insurance. Also, most travel insurance policies will not cover all of the risks you’ve outlined. However, the failure to mention travel or relocation in a contract may prevent an employer from requiring that an employee work in a foreign country. Whether an employer can make such a request, without it being specifically mentioned in the contract, depends primarily on the nature of the work and if foreign travel to that country was expected or foreseeable when the employee was hired or promoted into their current position.
If an employee has a legitimate fear for their safety they may be able to argue that a travel request from their employer is not consistent with their contract. The context of the employment and the country involved are important considerations. For example it could be implied into many contracts that travel to the United States is acceptable, whereas travel to parts of Afghanistan is not. It is always best to review your contract, check your facts, and consult with a Lawyer before making any demands of your employer.
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/.