Litigious means “ fond of engaging in law suits”. The truth is, most lawyers are more fond of settling law suits than going to court. A clear and firm result rather than the vagaries of the court room are almost always best for everyone. Sometimes clients don’t agree.
Punitive damages are rarely awarded in wrongful dismissal cases in Canada. Before the court will even consider it, it has to be proven that the employer has acted atrociously. The problem is, almost everyone who has been terminated thinks the entire thing is atrocious. Sandy’s story helps clarify just how bad things have to get before the ire of the court will be sufficiently provoked for punitive damages to be awarded
No matter what the state of the economy, good employees are always hard to find. Often, those candidates are already securely employed elsewhere. When an employer is trying to convince that candidate to jump ship and join their team, they need to be careful about what they say and what they fail to disclose.
In a decision released this spring from an Ontario court, a large car manufacturer was ordered to pay a terminated employee $500,000 in punitive damages. While the decision will likely be appealed and, my guess is, that amount reduced, this case holds important lessons for all employers. An employer is obliged to treat an employee with good faith and to not discriminate against people who are disabled.
Judges are human beings and they don’t always get things right, but my experience is they mostly do. It’s surprising how many people hope that a judge will be gullible enough to be easily fooled.
A number of years ago the Supreme Court of Canada changed employment law significantly when it awarded “bad faith damages”. As a result of how an employee was poorly treated during the termination process, the court increased the pay in lieu of reasonable notice to which the employee would otherwise have been entitled.
Message to all employers: if you have to terminate someone, do it as nicely as you can and try to avoid having them taken from the office to jail by the police. You will pay for it later. A man we will call James was hired to be the executive director of a non-profit corporation in November of 2000. He started with a 6-month probationary period which was completed successfully.
A woman we will call Michelle managed a beauty parlour in a nursing home for seventeen and a half years. In November of 1997 she fell and hurt herself in the parking lot of the beauty salon. She missed a few days work but was soon back at work on light duties. A week after the light duties had begun, Michelle received a letter of lay off which told her that her position was being eliminated as a result of financial cutbacks. The letter did not provide an actual date for her termination but told her that her termination date would be decided within the next few weeks.
A woman we will call Lucinda worked for 32 years on the assembly line in a car plant. Her job was to do the final tightening on six bolts on a door locking system. The bolts were initially tightened by another worker with an air gun. Her job was to make the final turn with her torque wrench on all six bolts.
Paul worked as a bartender in Halifax for three years. Although he was an enthusiastic employee, he was sometimes late for work and had been disciplined a few times and even suspended for three days for his tardiness. That, however, is not why Paul was fired.