Author: Daniel A. Lublin
Sometimes silence may be golden.
This is the tale of two cases that together reveal the fate of employees who are too quick to criticize their bosses.
Following a number of poor performance reviews, Yingyi Chen had finally had enough of management’s disdain. Chen, a production manager at a B.C. commercial fish farm, decided he would fire back. Returning from a month-long vacation, Chen learned that his company needed to raise funds through a share offering to existing shareholders. Knowing that the company was in a precarious financial position, Chen penned a letter to the shareholders widely expressing his dissatisfaction with management and how he felt the company was being run. Chen claimed that management was “disastrous.” According to him, it had been “wasting” shareholders money and the company was being managed “on the road towards failure.”
Chen was immediately fired. Believing that his conduct was not grounds for his dismissal with cause, Chen sued. Recently, he lost his case. In siding with the employer, the court found that Chen had attempted to embarrass both his managers and the board of directors in the eyes of the company’s shareholders, and that by doing so without a good reason, his termination was upheld. Although Chen was entitled to criticize his bosses, it was the manner in which he did so that cost him the case.
Similarly, still upset following an angry confrontation with her boss, Maria Van Der Meij wasn’t about to go quietly. A supervisor at a busy immigration centre in Victoria, B.C., Van Der Meij was burdened with a heavy caseload and funding shortfalls. The job was stressful and tensions often ran high.
When the errors of one of her staff mounted, Van Der Meij clashed with the centre’s director about the appropriate discipline. Thinking that the director had acted improperly during the meeting, Van Der Meij left the office and later wrote to the board of directors, angrily criticizing her boss by accusing him of being a coward and lacking ethical standards.
Ultimately, Van Der Meij’s letter cost her her job and her case, as the court found that because she had spitefully criticized her boss, her dismissal was justified.
In both cases the courts accepted that employees are generally “entitled to criticize superiors without fear of immediate dismissal.” However, sometimes silence can be golden. While employees will often have complaints that are reasonable or justified, the manner and tone in which they express them must always remain professional. When such criticism goes over the edge, an employer is not required to tolerate it.