Ultimatum tantamount to dismissal
Following a bad day at work and thinking that he would be fired, Philip Chan elected to resign instead. However, in another tale from the workplace trenches with an ending you would not expect, a court found that Chan’s resignation was actually a termination.
Chan, the general manager of a busy Denny’s restaurant in Langley, BC, had his fair share of problems with his supervisor, who had repeatedly criticized his performance. Although Chan had been well regarded within the company, by May 2009 the tone and content of the communication from his boss led him to believe that he would soon be fired. Matters came to a head when Chan was given the choice of being dismissed or resigning. For Chan, “saving face” was paramount, so he resigned rather than face dismissal. However, at the urging of another senior employee, Chan soon returned to his job. His content with his boss would not last long.
After another hectic day at the restaurant, Chan’s manager came to him once more and said that he could choose to resign or else he would be fired. Again, faced with the possibility of explaining his termination to prospective employers, Chan opted to resign. He drafted a letter confirming his decision and left work. This time, however, although Chan’s departure was permanent, he was not about to go quietly. Chan recently sued Denny’s, arguing that the ultimatum he was given was tantamount to a dismissal.
At a recent trial, the judge drew a clear bright line between an employee who voluntarily leaves and one who is told he will otherwise be fired. Here, although Chan’s statements and actions were consistent with an employee who wanted out, they were provided in the context of an ultimatum that he would be fired and in response to a boss who had tried to force his resignation once before. Chan was awarded wrongful dismissal damages and his legal costs.
Although the results of this case may have been surprising, the law in this area is quite clear: Canadian courts are loath to uphold a resignation proffered under circumstances of pressure or an ultimatum and instead will usually find that the employee has been fired.
Author: Daniel Lublin