Often, employees will draft letters to employers protesting a job change or explaining a particular action. Some of the more “careful” ones will have lawyers do this for them, but a recent case from Vancouver illustrates why lawyers should be mindful of striking a proper balance between voicing a concern and “strong-arming” an employer. Daniel Lublin writes about this unusual case in his weekly column in the Metro titled, “Sometimes a lawyer can be perilous”.
Sukhwinder Grewal was a branch manager for Khalsa Credit Union for almost 17 years. When Grewal’s behavior was criticized by her boss, Dalbir Sohi, she would often respond with a written letter of explanation. One day, Sohi discovered errors in some of the details for Grewal’s personal mortgage and sent a memo to bank personnel calling the mortgage a “scandal”. Before he could speak with Grewal about it, she left on disability leave.
Grewal returned, displeased about the allegations and concerned that Sohi had crossed a line and invaded her privacy by investigating. In response, Grewal’s lawyer drafted a letter that read:
We demand that within 21 days from the date of this letter you issue a written apology to Mrs. Grewal acknowledging that your actions in going to the board of directors, testifying on oath at the FICOM hearing, levelling this untrue accusation of a mortgage scandal at her and repeatedly making baseless allegations of performance failures in her job as a manager were done by you in bad faith with the intent of injuring Mrs. Grewal and her reputation. You must promise to refrain from any and all such conduct in the future…
In court, the judge agreed with the credit union’s view that Grewal’s actions and the strong wording in the letter had repudiated the employment contract.
Typically, dismissal for cause that is predicated upon a single action is only upheld in exceptional circumstances. Because Grewal was a branch manager at the bank, the judge reasoned that “it was essential she retain the confidence of her superiors.” Following the final letter, this was no longer possible.
Although the letter did not solely determine Grewal’s case, Lublin says that it certainly tipped the scales against her. Employees should be careful of the extent to which they criticize superiors – although it is allowable, the courts recognize certain limits and are willing to enforce them.