Wrongful Dismissal – Should you merely adjust to a work adjustment?
What happens when an employee is told to perform more work for the same pay? Do employers have the right to expect the same level of performance or do employees have the right to refuse the additional work or demand more compensation? According to a recent Ontario case, courts will be sympathetic to employees performing two jobs for the price of one.
Kelly Hunt was hired as an assistant at Peterborough, Ontario trucking company Buckham Transport Ltd. However, she was later asked to take on role of receivables clerk. Hunt though that this amounted to the work of two jobs, but nonetheless, she said that she would do whatever needed to be done. Hunt was not given any increase in pay.
Hunt already had a rocky relationship with her supervisor, who felt that she often procrastinated and took too long to finish her work. Matters deteriorated when Hunt took on the additional accounting duties and complaints about her work landed on the desk of the company’s office manager, Leanor Buckham.
Hunt was called to a meeting with Ms. Buckham who accused her of fumbling some of her work. Hunt was then asked to take on even more work to which she replied “she could if she was given a raise but not otherwise.” This was the last straw for Ms. Buckham who fired Hunt on the spot. Hunt fired back with a lawsuit.
At a recent trial, the court found for Hunt. It determined that it was Hunt’s additional duties that caused her to get behind in her work and not any wilful neglect on her part. Critical of how it handled the matter from the outset, the judge then concluded that Buckham was to blame for permitting a “failed management system.” If there were complaints about Hunt’s work, Buckham had to properly warn her, ruled the court. Hunt was awarded damages and her legal costs.
The human resource lessons are clear – without appropriate warnings, seldom will courts find that employees knew or should have known that they were underperforming. Further, employees should beware of assuming additional responsibilities without first seeking an agreement on pay. Once the new work begins, it will often be too late to negotiate.
Author: Daniel Lublin