We are pleased to share a recent Benefits Canada article, “Employers can’t rely on original termination clauses when employee responsibilities increase: court,” with quotes from George Avraam. A recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision upheld a motion judge’s award of over $400,000 to an employee on the basis of the changed substratum doctrine. The case
Special thanks to Oscar Ramirez (articling student in our Toronto office) for co-authoring this blog.
In Celestini v. Shoplogix Inc., 2023 ONCA 131, the Ontario Court of Appeal recently upheld a motion judge’s award of over $400,000 to an employee on the basis of the changed substratum doctrine.
What is the changed substratum doctrine?
The changed substratum doctrine recognizes that the employment relationship evolves over time such that sometimes it may be inappropriate to apply the provisions of an out-dated employment contract to a job that has changed significantly. The doctrine applies in situations where the employee’s duties have fundamentally expanded to a point where the underlying employment contract has substantially eroded, or it can be implied that the employment contract could not have been intended to apply to the employee’s latest role.
In 2005, Mr. Celestini became Shoplogix Inc.’s Chief Technological Officer through a finance arrangement with a venture fund. As part of the deal, he would step down as Shoplogix’s CEO and serve as its CTO under a written employment contract, which he signed in 2005. The employment contract limited Mr. Celestini’s entitlements upon termination of employment.
In 2008, Mr. Celestini and Shoplogix entered into an Incentive Compensation Agreement (“ICA“) which significantly altered Mr. Celestini’s bonus entitlements. Shoplogix did not amend the 2005 employment contract at this time.
There was an expansion of Mr. Celestini’s workload and responsibilities that coincided with the execution of the ICA and a change in leadership. His new responsibilities included: “managing important aspects of sales and marketing; directing managers and senior staff who were reassigned to report to him; travelling to pursue international sales; handling all of the company’s infrastructure responsibilities; and soliciting investment funds.”
In 2017, Shoplogix terminated Mr. Celestini without cause. Shoplogix took the position that Mr. Celestini’s rights were governed by the employment contract he signed in 2005. But Mr. Celestini argued that the termination provisions in the 2005 contract were unenforceable because of the substantial changes to his position, and he was therefore entitled to reasonable notice at common law. He claimed he was entitled to common law damages for wrongful dismissal on the basis that Shoplogix breached the implied term to provide reasonable notice of termination.…
In an encouraging decision for employers, the Ontario Court of Appeal clarified that a corporation is not a common employer just because it “owned, controlled or was affiliated with another corporation that had a direct employment relationship with the employee”. In O’Reilly v. ClearMRI Solutions Ltd., 2021 ONCA 385, the Court affirmed that the…
The Ontario Court of Appeal released yet another decision on the interpretation and enforceability of termination clauses: Rossman v. Canadian Solar Inc., 2019 ONCA 992. Recent appellate decisions on this matter have been inconsistent on this issue and unfortunately, Rossman is more bad news for employers. Nevertheless this decision provides guidance that should be considered in reviewing and drafting termination provisions in employment contracts.
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The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has reminded employers that terminating a fixed term employment contract early can prove to be expensive.
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The Ontario Court of Appeal has reiterated that, barring exceptional circumstances, reasonable notice for dismissal without cause will not exceed 24 months. The Court partially overturned the lower court’s decision in Dawe v The Equitable Life Insurance Company of Canada, which also ruled on the enforceability of unilateral changes to the employer’s bonus plan.
Continue Reading 24 Months Reaffirmed as the “High End” of Reasonable Notice; Bonus Plan Changes Must Be Accepted by Employee
A recent decision of the Alberta Court of Appeal adds further confusion to the issue of the enforceability of termination clauses. In Holm v AGAT Laboratories Ltd, 2018 ABCA 23 (“Holm“), the Alberta Court of Appeal (“Court”) held that explicit language must be included in a termination clause to oust an employee’s common law rights.
Continue Reading Alberta and Ontario Courts Diverge on Termination Clauses
In the recent decision of Covenoho v. Pendylum Ltd., 2017 ONCA 284, the Ontario Court of Appeal put an end to any debate about the enforceability of termination provisions in employment agreements that may violate minimum employment standards legislation in the future. The takeaway for employers from the case is as simple as it is noteworthy: a termination provision that breaches minimum employment standards legislation in the future – even if compliant at the time of the employee’s termination from employment – is void and therefore will not be enforced. …
Continue Reading Into the Void: Potential Future Violations of ESA Sufficient to Set Aside Employment Contract
In the recent decision in Howard v. Benson Group Inc., 2016 ONCA 256, the Ontario Court of Appeal provides straightforward but important lessons for employers who make use of fixed term employment contracts: …
Continue Reading Fixed Term Employment Contracts – Important Lessons from the Ontario Court of Appeal
The Ontario Court of Appeal recently confirmed not only that dependent contractors are entitled to reasonable notice of termination, but that 26 months can be an appropriate notice period for long-service dependent contractors.
Continue Reading Dependent Contractors are Entitled to Reasonable Notice (and Potentially Lots of It)