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Two weeks ago, McDonald’s made headlines when it was announced that their CEO, Steve Easterbrook would be leaving the company. The decision came after it became known to McDonald’s that Easterbrook had engaged in a romantic relationship with an employee. The relationship was recognized as consensual. Despite this, McDonald’s had a workplace policy that forbids managers from having a romantic relationship with subordinates. Easterbrook acknowledged that his actions were in contravention of the values of the company.

A week later, Don Cherry was the subject of national headlines after making controversial comments that subsequently went viral on a Saturday night airing of Hockey Night in Canada. By Monday, it was announced that Cherry’s employment with Sportsnet had been terminated.

In Canada, an employee (non-unionized) can be dismissed with or without cause. If dismissed without cause, an employee is entitled to notice of dismissal or pay in lieu thereof. However, if an employee’s employment is dismissed with cause, they are not entitled to any notice, pay in lieu of notice or severance pay.

Could Easterbrook and Cherry’s warrant legal cause for dismissal?

While the reasons for Cherry’s dismissal were not formally disclosed to the public, it is likely that Rogers’s code of conduct and anti-discrimination policies were a factor.

Employee handbooks can be an efficient way to communicate important procedures, policies and an employer’s expectations. They can establish the standards of conduct expected of an employee both in the workplace and outside the workplace (also known as “off-duty”). An employer may accordingly seek to rely on a breach of such policies as justification for dismissal with cause.

Having a Policy Isn’t Enough

While policies can be an important piece of establishing standards, the existence of any such policies is rarely in and of itself enough. Rather, if an employer intends to act on a workplace policy or code of conduct, they must be able to establish that the standards of the conduct or the relevant policy(ies) are clearly established and applied within the workplace. This is because courts will scrutinize both whether the terms in the employee’s handbook have been communicated to the employee(s) and whether it has been consistently applied in the workplace. The court will also consider the impact or damage that such a breach had on the employer and the workplace.

For employee codes of conduct and workplace policies to be effective, they should:

  • Be periodically updated to align with the changing landscape of the workplace;
  • Clearly outline important definitions, terms and conditions;
  • Discuss important terms and policies with new hires;
  • Secure employee recognition through review and/or signing off;
  • Be applied across the company in a consistent manner.

If you are seeking assistance with respect to any employment matters relating to wrongful dismissal, whether relating to workplace policies or procedures or otherwise, please contact Toronto employment lawyers Sultan Lawyers at mlahert@sultanlawyers.com or 416-214-5111.


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