Termination of Employment

In 2016, the Ontario Court of Appeal confirmed that dependent contractors are entitled to reasonable notice of termination. In a recent decision, Cormier v 1772887 Ontario Limited cob as St. Joseph Communications, (“Cormier“) the Ontario Superior Court of Justice extended this principle – commenting that service as an independent contractor should be considered in calculating the reasonable notice period in certain circumstances.
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The Supreme Court of Canada will decide if an employee is entitled to payments owed in the event of a corporate acquisition despite the fact that the employee resigned over a year before the triggering event. On January 31, 2019, the SCC granted leave to appeal in Matthews v. Ocean Nutrition Canada Limited. The employee asserts that he is entitled to over $1 million in profits following the acquisition of his former employer – even though he had resigned 13 months before the transaction. If the SCC decides in the employee’s favour, employers may face more challenges (and increased litigation) when seeking to enforce limiting clauses in employment agreements.
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After-acquired cause, by definition, arises when an employer discovers just cause for termination after the employee has been dismissed on a without cause basis. This begs the question: Can an employer assert after-acquired cause when it has reason to suspect just cause prior to the termination, but proceeds on a without cause basis due to the employee’s representations of innocence? The Ontario Court of Appeal has answered affirmatively.
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Surprisingly, evidently not. Briefly the facts in Plate v. Atlas Copco Canada Inc., 2019 ONCA 196: an Executive in the role of Vice President Global Strategic Customers was terminated for just cause grounded in a decades-long defrauding of the company and its benefits provider in conspiracy with the latter’s consultant, to the extent of over $20,000,000, over a million of which resulted to the Executive personally. His argument that he was a bystander incidentally enriched to the knowledge of the employer failed, conviction entered, no appeal pursued.

In the course of the criminal process the Court readily found that the Executive was a “fiduciary”, a formidable position of trust: the duty of replete fidelity, selfless devotion to the “beneficiary” (here the employer), compelling so-called “righteousness” behaviour.
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Faith-based, as in “good faith”, that is.

Not that long ago the Supreme Court installed “good faith” as core to the fabric of contractual relations in Canada whether commercial or employment, whether ostensibly arms-length as “independent contractor” or employment per se. Implying a duty to act fairly in contract is not foreign to other jurisdictions— it is foundational to EU legal principals and long-since present in the Restatements of US law.

Here, not so much. In the 60s Ontario Justice Goodman enthused about incorporation of “good faith” as a distinct implied term of contract; alas conservative sentiment rendered that distillation jurisprudential ‘moonshine’. Some 50 years on Bhasin v. Hrynew (2014) refined that elixir into single malt: the SCC aspirationally confirmed that we all gotta have ‘faith’.

While it remains difficult to be ‘sort-of pregnant’, good faith became operational but not as an independent “cause of action”. But as an influencer of import in contractual relations, it has certainly come of age: Mohamed v. Information Systems Architects Inc., 2018 ONCA 428.
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Employers commonly receive calls from Employment Insurance (EI) Officers seeking clarification of the information provided by the employer in a Record of Employment (ROE). The clarification or confirmation typically relates to the employee’s first / last day worked, insurable hours, insurable earnings and / or the reason for issuing the ROE (Block 16).

Employers who are asked to speak to their reason for issuing the ROE should pause and consider what, if any, information to share with the EI Officer. Employers should also carefully consider what steps to take upon receipt of correspondence from the EI Officer or the Canada Employment Insurance Commission (Commission).
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This is part two in our series on recent Ontario Superior Court decisions that employers should be aware of before finalizing future employment agreements. See here for our first part, on the recent trend of lengthy notice period awards for long service employees of advanced age.

As most employers know, unenforceable termination clauses often give rise to costly wrongful dismissal claims. Yet the case law in this area is constantly evolving, and it is increasingly challenging to stay abreast of what a court will consider to be enforceable.
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This is the first of our two-part series on recent Ontario Superior Court of Justice decisions that employers need to be aware of before finalizing their next employment agreement. The decisions highlight the risk of failing to include an enforceable termination provision in the employment agreement. Absent such a provision, an employee dismissed without cause will be entitled to “reasonable notice” of termination at common law.

In this first part, we examine two recent decisions of the Court that suggest that the Court now favours longer notice periods for long service employees of advanced age: Dawe v Equitable Life Insurance Company, 2018 ONSC 3130 (Dawe) and Saikaly v Akman Construction Ltd., 2019 ONSC 799 (Saikaly). Until recently, 24 months was generally considered as the upper limit of notice entitlement that courts would award absent exceptional circumstances.
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Although brevity is almost always better than wordiness, it would have been better if the legislature had used a few more words in the severance pay provisions of Ontario’s Employment Standards Act, 2000. Under the ESA, employers with a payroll of at least $2.5 million are required to provide statutory severance pay when dismissing an employee with 5 or more years of service. Unfortunately the provision is silent as to whether payroll within Ontario or, rather, global payroll is determinative. It would have been helpful if the drafters had indicated where, exactly, to draw the line.

The pendulum has swung back and forth on this issue. Most recently, the Ontario Labour Relations Board (“OLRB”) held that Ontario-only payroll is determinative, diverging from the direction previously taken by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. We outline the key cases to date below.
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To ring in the New Year, we highlight the ten most significant developments in Canadian labour and employment law in 2018.
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