Author: Daniel A. Lublin
His work and ethics criticized, a British Columbia CBC journalist decided to take the law into his own hands. He attempted to poison his adversary by contaminating a box of chocolates he then sent to the critic as a gift.
But when his scheme backfired, the reporter lost more than his chance at revenge. He had tainted his reputation and his career.
The case involved a reporter who had an ongoing battle with the head of a political lobby group. The reporter had broadcast a news report relating to the lobby group and, as a result, the head of the group publicly questioned the reporter’s ethics and filed a complaint with the CBC.
Instead of taking the complaint in stride, the reporter attempted to exact his revenge. He formulated a plan to get back at his critic by buying a box of chocolates, spitting on them, and then sending them to the critic as a gift. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the reporter decided to add attempted poisoning to his resumé. Later that day, the reporter was preparing chicken for dinner and actually took the chocolates, threw them on the dirty floor and then rubbed them in the thawed, raw chicken. He repackaged the chocolates and mailed them to the critic with a note saying “keep up the good work”.
Having second thoughts, the reporter later called the critic and explained what he had done. The critic called the police and the reporter was forced to confess. He was fired.
The case went to court where the judge concluded the employment relationship was seriously undermined and the credibility of the reporter was damaged beyond repair. As a result of his planned poisoning, the reporter lost the case, his job and his reputation.
The law requires employers meet strict standards to terminate an employee for just cause. However, as the CBC case shows us, a single incident can sometimes be so damaging the workplace relationship can come to an immediate end.
When it comes to being fired for a single incident of misconduct, here are three legal tips to keep you out of the boardroom and the courtroom:
- Courts assess whether the punishment meets the crime. All the circumstances must be considered along with any reasonable explanation for your alleged misconduct.
- A single incident should justify your immediate dismissal only in exceptional circumstances. However, where the nature of the misconduct shows your intention to no longer be bound by your contract, your firing is more likely to withstand any scrutiny.
- Being fired for just cause is a significant event. You forfeit your entitlement to any termination or severance pay. The courts, therefore, require employers to prove the alleged misconduct actually occurred. It should be investigated and you should be given the chance to plead your case.