[BY WARDS PC LAWYERS]
Proving “just cause” for termination is a challenging task for employers. Employers must properly and diligently document a progressive discipline process before terminating the employee generally, including documentary evidence of successive written warnings, cautions and opportunity to rectify the improper conduct by the employee.
However, if these steps are taken, the Court will recognize “just cause” and support an employer’s position in a lawsuit by an employee for wrongful termination.
Here is an example: Cotter v. Point Grey Golf and Country Club, a recent British Columbia case. In fact, the evidence of effective progressive discipline was good enough that the Court allowed for a summary trial to be held.
The sixteen-year employee was an accountant and comptroller for the employer. Effectively, the employer refused to acknowledge and sign-off as management to a resolved property tax assessment dispute of the employer. The dispute has been resolved fully, but the employee would not sign-off on it to the employer’s auditors.
The employee effectively ignored two written warnings from his manager not to continue to discuss the matter with anyone without the knowledge or consent of his manger. He continued to do so.
The property tax assessment issue was reviewed several times by management, the Board and the employer’s auditors, all of which determined there was no issue and no problem for the employer. But the employee still refused to sign the audit documentation.
He was terminated by the employer, for cause.
The Court allowed a summary trial and held that:
- the matter was not complex and the case law in the area was settled;
- the documents "spoke for themselves" and removed many issues of credibility; and
- the issues the employee raised were not relevant to the issue of whether his employment had been terminated for cause.
Ultimately the Court found that the employee had been willfully disobedient, unreasonably refused to take direction and effectively ignored the repeated warnings given to him by the employer.
His willfully insubordinate behaviour and communication with third parties, contrary to his management’s direction, were inconsistent with the employee-employer relationship.
The employee’s claim was dismissed. He was awarded nothing and had to pay costs to the employer.
This case demonstrates the importance of creating and maintaining good written records of warnings and employee discipline.
If the employer can show this type of documentary evidence effectively, it will increase its chance of succeeding in a ‘for cause’ termination.
Jason Ward – WARDS PC LAWYERS
This WARDSPC BLAWG is for general information only. It is not legal advice, or intended to be. Specific or more information may be necessary before advice could be provided for your circumstances.
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