Having your employment terminated can understandably be a stressful experience.
This is particularly the case where an employee does not fully understand their legal rights. The Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench decision in Lalonde v Sena Solid Waste Holdings Inc, 2017 can therefore provide useful insight into an employer’s obligations upon termination of employment.
The Plaintiff (“Lalonde”), was employed by the Defendant (“Sena”) when he was accused of serious misconduct.
The allegations included insubordination, putting a life in danger, and lying. Without being given the opportunity to respond to the allegations or instances in which the allegations refer to, Lalonde was suspended and escorted off the premises.
Lalonde attempted to contact the company several times during his suspension. His attempts were unsuccessful, and Lalonde was not provided an opportunity to explain his side of the story. He was also unable to obtain further information regarding the allegations which led to the suspension.
Rather than responding to Lalonde’s request for more information, Sena proceeded to terminate Lalonde’s employment “with cause” due to his failure to follow safety procedures and his supervisor’s instructions.
Lalonde then provided detailed responses to all allegations against him set out in the termination later but merely received an email back from Sena with a list of policy violations by Lalonde.
Lalonde then brought a claim against Sena seeking compensation for wrongful dismissal and aggravated damages. The company defended the claim by stating that Lalonde’s actions constituted “serious safety violations and insubordination.” However, on the first day of trial, Sena dropped its allegations of just cause.
The judge found that Sena’s decision to maintain allegations of cause for nearly five years, then to abandon them on the first day of trial, was “intentional”, “unfair” and “breached the requirement of good faith”.
Further, the judge decided that the investigation Sena claimed to have conducted was “incompetent and unfair and at worst it was a sham.” The judge subsequently concluded that the investigation was not conducted appropriately because Lalonde’s side of the story was never properly considered by Sena.
As such, the judge held that Lalonde’s dismissal was not one of just cause. Further. the judge concluded that Lalonde suffered from mental distress as a result of damages to his reputation.
Lalonde was then awarded reasonable notice equivalent to six months salary, six months retention bonus and aggravated damages in the amount of $75,000.
The case of Lalonde v Sena Solid Waste Holdings Inc, 2017 demonstrates that employers must consistently act in good faith, and in particular in the course of a termination of employment. Otherwise, employers can be penalized for their bad faith conduct, including in scenarios which cause humiliation and distress to the employee.
It is important to note that the court was highly critical of Sena’s investigation process, including not asking questions or considering Lalonde’s side of the story. Further, the court determined that it did not require medical evidence to support Lalonde’s claim of mental distress.
The case makes it clear that employees can be entitled to significant damages in cases where they are treated in bad faith. If you are an employee who has been terminated for cause and would like to learn about your rights, please contact us at Sultan Lawyers PC by telephone (416) 214-5111 or by here.
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