A bit of bad faith can go a long way

Date: 2006
Author: Daniel A. Lublin
Publication: Metro
After putting in many long hours of hard work as a machinist for food packaging supplier Packall Packing, all Roland Carter wanted to do was take a four-day vacation. But when Carter filled his name under the wrong day off in the company’s vacation planner, his vacation became more than just a long weekend — he was fired and out of work for nearly two years.
As usual, the company granted Carter’s request for a long weekend. Carter was supposed to be off work Friday, Saturday and Sunday and he had taken Monday as a vacation day. However, Carter mistakenly entered his vacation day in the wrong space on the company’s vacation planner and forgot to fill a mandatory vacation slip. Carter’s gaffe left Packall scrambling to fill the void when he didn’t show up on Monday. When the boss learned Carter wasn’t there, he called Carter to come into work and hung up on him when Carter insisted he had taken the day as a vacation day. A few minutes later, Carter’s boss called back. He was scrambling to try to get someone to cover this shift and was hoping that Carter would come in for a few hours. When Carter didn’t answer the phone, his boss left a profane message telling Carter not to come back to work because “he wasn’t needed there” anymore.
The boss left Carter some more messages later that week, suggesting he had been fired or laid off. But believing he was fired, Carter never returned the calls and never returned to work. So, after 10 years of service at Packall, the confusion over a day off cost Carter his job.
In a recent column, I wrote about the duty of good faith and fair dealing that employers have towards employees at the time of termination. Where employers humiliate, mistreat or act unreasonably towards employees, they can be forced to pay additional damages for this misconduct. Packall had to learn the hard way when Carter took the company to court. In the reasons for judgment, the Court found that Packall acted in bad faith by carrying out Carter’s dismissal in the following manner:

  • Rather than communicating with Carter privately, the boss terminated Carter in a message left on the home answering machine that could also be heard by his family;
  • Carter’s boss was abrupt, discourteous, rude and profane;
  • Carter’s boss disingenuously suggested that Carter had been “laid off.” The judge believed this was done in the hope that Carter would agree to treat his termination as a lay off so that he would be owed less money;
  • Packall made untrue allegations of Carter’s misconduct in his Record of Employment, which initially disqualified him for Employment Insurance; and
  • Because of the allegations that Packall made, and continued to make up until the trial, Carter was discouraged from getting a reference letter — which hampered him from finding another job.As a result of management’s behaviour, Carter was awarded additional damages above and beyond what he would have received had Packall acted more reasonably. The lesson to both employers and employees is clear: employees should be treated reasonably, decently and fairly at the time of their termination, and afterwards as well.