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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Last week, the Ontario Court of Appeal released yet another decision on the interpretation and enforceability of termination clauses: Amberber v. IBM Canada Ltd., 2018 ONCA 571. Recent appellate decisions on this issue have been inconsistent and/or provided less than clear guidelines, see here, here, here and here. In contrast, Amberber is a bright spot for employers. The Court not only reaffirmed the principle that termination clauses must be interpreted as a whole, but also held that courts should not strain to create an ambiguity where none exists.
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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.
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The Ontario Court of Appeal just released another decision on the interpretation and enforceability of termination clauses – the latest chapter in a less-than-clear set of guidelines. Generally speaking, a properly drafted termination clause can be used to limit an employee’s entitlements on dismissal.
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We are pleased to report that the Ontario Court of Appeal has reaffirmed the principle that a purchaser of the assets of a business is free to offer employment on new terms to employees of the vendor and can rely on the resulting written employment agreement as binding (Krishnamoorthy v. Olympus Canada Inc., 2017 ONCA 873).
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The Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) recently ruled that a unilateral contract renewal clause was valid, despite its potential to bind one party perpetually: Uniprix inc. v. Gestion Gosselin et Bérubé inc. The clause afforded sole discretion to the respondents to renew or terminate their contract with Uniprix. The wording of the clause, the nature of the contract and the relationship between the parties were determinative in the majority’s ruling, which upheld the decisions of the Court of Appeal and the Superior Court of Quebec. The SCC’s decision and our key takeaways are outlined below.
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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.
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