Author: Daniel A. Lublin
Unfortunately, I’ve learned that we cannot always expect others to treat us fairly, reasonably and decently. But when it comes to being terminated from a job, employers are legally required to behave in such a manner.
A 1997 Supreme Court of Canada decision — which is considered to be one of the most influential employment law decisions to date — established the standard requiring employers to treat employees with good faith and fair dealing at the time of their termination.
This particular case involved a 59-year-old employee who was dismissed without explanation after 14 years as his firm’s top salesperson. He had been told at the time of his hiring that he could remain at the job until retirement if he performed as expected. Yet, when he sued for wrongful dismissal, the company responded by claiming he had been insubordinate and had failed to carry out his duties. For the employee, who was unable to find another similar job, the sudden dismissal led him to suffer depression and require psychiatric help.
As a result of this case, a court will now consider an employers’ insensitive conduct as a factor when awarding damages to a wrongfully dismissed employee. Some examples of insensitive or bad faith conduct at the time of termination include:
- not being honest, reasonable or straightforward with you;
- misleading you;
- humiliating or embarrassing you;
- making unfounded allegations or negative public statements about you;
- falsely assuring your continued job security;
- refusing to produce a letter of reference or record of employment;
- not returning any personal property left at the office;
- firing you immediately upon returning from a disability leave; and
- withholding money that is owed to the you at the time of termination.
However, not all conduct can be characterized as bad faith or unfair dealing. Generally, I advise my clients that the conduct must be akin to intent, malice or a blatant disregard for your interests. If your employer has acted in this way, you may then be entitled to additional damages arising from your termination. In any case where you have been fired, the best advice remains to consult with an employment law expert who can advise you of your rights.