When a dismissed employee sues their former employer the potential cost to the employer can often be estimated early on in the process. This can help both the employee and the employer reach a satisfactory settlement. In certain cases however the unexpected happens and an employee’s claim becomes far greater than originally anticipated. The recent employment law case of Brito v. Canac Kitchens demonstrates how an employee’s damages can expand in a wrongful dismissal claim.
In the majority of cases an employee who is wrongfully dismissed by their employer is entitled to reasonable notice damages. These damages represent the amount of notice that the employer should have given to the employee that they were going to lose their job. In most wrongful dismissal cases the majority of the damages awarded are reasonable notice damages in the form of a continuing salary during the notice period. The notice period may last anywhere from a few weeks to 24 months. During the notice period employers are responsible not only for an employee’s salary but also for the other benefits an employee received, including long-term disability benefits if applicable.
In the Canac Kitchens case, about 16 months after being laid off, the plaintiff, a dismissed employee of Canac Kitchens, underwent surgery for laryngeal cancer and would have became eligible for the long-term disability benefits formerly provided by his employer. At trial, the judge found that the plaintiff had become disabled during the reasonable notice period that his employer ought to have, but did not, provide. Because the employer had chosen not to continue the plaintiff’s long-term disability benefits during the notice period the employer was held liable to compensate the employee for his lost benefits. This finding by the judge more than doubled the damages award provided to the employee. In addition, the judge described Canac’s conduct as “reckless, outrageous, and high-handed” and an additional award of $15,000 was provided to the plaintiff as ancillary damages. The Canac Kitchens case is an excellent example of how what may seem to be a simple dismissal case can become very costly to an employer when an employee becomes disabled during the notice period. To read the entirety of the decision click here.
I have a chronic medical condition which unfortunately has become worse over time. For the last two years I have been receiving benefits through my employer’s disability insurance plan. Recently, the insurer wrote to advise me that the terms of the policy have changed and that they now require additional medical information - why is this happening and am I at risk of losing my benefits?
Most disability insurance policies provided by employers have different coverage for different periods of time. For the first two years of an employee’s disability benefits are generally provided on the basis that you cannot perform the essential duties of your existing occupation. The definition of disability changes after two years in most policies.
One of the first steps in your case is to obtain a copy of the policy from your employer. This policy will usually include a brief description of the criteria that an employee must meet to be entitled to disability benefits. In the vast majority of cases after two years of paying benefits policies will limit an employee’s entitlement to further benefits unless the employee is unable to work in any occupation to which they are reasonably suited.
Because of this change to the disability definition, insurance companies will generally review files and seek additional medical information if someone has been receiving benefits for two years. However, Ontario courts have recognized that whether an individual is able to perform any occupation depends not only on their particular disability, but also their basic skill set and educational background. In many cases insurers won’t cut off benefits once they have completed their review and have received additional medical information. However, if you and your insurer disagree about whether you are capable of returning to the workforce it may be time to contact a Lawyer.
I was injured in a car accident while driving to drop off a package for my employer—I almost never drive as part of my job. I work in an office as a clerk. The other driver was charged. Now I am off work and need physiotherapy. My doctor says I may have a permanent injury to my back. I have received a Notice from the Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB) requesting that I elect whether or not I want to receive benefits.
Can I sue the other driver and receive benefits?
No. In Ontario injured workers who receive WSIB benefits forego their right to sue on their own behalf. You may choose to elect not to receive benefits and preserve your right to sue a third party in some limited circumstances. In Ontario, employees who are insured under the Workplace Safety Insurance Act scheme are not permitted to sue their own employer for injuries sustained while working. Depending on the nature of your job, you may not be able to sue another worker or employer either.
However, if you are injured in a vehicle collision and the responsible driver is not a worker as defined in the Act then you may elect whether or not you wish to receive WSIB benefits or pursue the at fault driver. That is a complicated decision.
Generally speaking, the more serious the injuries you have sustained the more likely you will be better off foregoing WSIB benefits and pursuing the at fault driver. However, if there are questions about liability (if you are wholly or partially at fault), or if there is a question about your ability to successfully recover damages in a tort action the WSIB scheme may be the best option for you.
Deciding whether or not to elect to receive WSIB benefits is complicated, and best made with the assistance of a Lawyer with experience in such matters. Experienced Lawyers are available to consult with you, often without obligation to you.
Last month local newspapers reported the case of a McDonald’s employee in Kanata who was dismissed after receiving poor performance reviews. The employee received more than $100,000.00 in court. Why?
The short answer is that the judge in this case found that although the employee’s performance was not perfect the employer did not have “just cause” to terminate her employment contract. If a business chooses to dismiss an employee the employer has to first decide if they have just cause to end the contract or not. Just cause exists when an employee has committed a serious breach of contract such as theft or continually missing work without reason. If the employer does not have just cause then in most cases they have to provide compensation which can equal up to a month of salary for every year of the employee’s service.
Many employers have staff who they believe are poor performers. Performance reviews are often done to encourage better performance but may also be an attempt to build a case for a just cause dismissal. After several poor performance reviews an employer may choose to dismiss an employee for just cause. However, a decision to terminate an employee for just cause can be challenged in court where employers often find it difficult to prove that the alleged breach of contract was serious enough to warrant a just cause dismissal. Poor performance reviews may show that an employee was less than perfect but this alone is usually not enough to disentitle them to some compensation when they are dismissed. Because compensation is typically based on the number of years the employee has worked, the amount owing to dismissed employee can be significant which is what occurred in the case of the former McDonald’s employee.