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Ontario Court Rules that ESA Temporary Layoff may still Result in Constructive Dismissal

An Ontario Court has ruled in Bevilacqua v Gracious Living Corporation, 2016 ONSC 4127 that even in cases where an employer has complied with the temporary layoff provisions of the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the “Act”), the layoff does not protect the employer from a successful claim in constructive dismissal by the employee at common law. In the case, a 15 year Facilities Manager was told by his employer that he was being temporarily laid off and that he would be recalled in three months. His company benefits were continued during the layoff period. While the layoff was done in accordance with the Act, the employee immediately took the position that he had been effectively terminated when he was placed on layoff. The Court agreed with the employee, and held that absent a provision in the employee’s employment contract allowing for a temporary layoff, a unilateral layoff constituted a constructive dismissal, regardless of whether it was done in compliance with the Act. The employee in the case, who was unemployed for 15 months after he was placed on layoff, was less successful with the remedy that the Court ordered. The employee was entitled to be paid for the three months he was on layoff, but the Court found that he had failed to mitigate his damages when he declined the employer’s offer to return to his old job after the layoff period was over.

Employers who wish to place employees on unpaid layoff should use this case as a reminder to update their employment agreements to provide for the right to unilaterally impose temporary layoffs in accordance with the Employment Standards Act, 2000 without further notice or compensation.

To view the decision, click here: http://www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2016/2016onsc4127/2016onsc4127.html.

 

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Ontario Court Rules that ESA Temporary Layoff may still Result in Constructive Dismissal

BC Minimum Wage Increase Now in Effect

British Columbia employers are reminded that the general minimum wage in British Columbia increased on September 15, 2016 to $10.85 per hour, up from $10.45 per hour.  The liquor server minimum wage also increased to $9.60 per hour. Employers are reminded to update their employment contracts and practices to ensure they reflect the new minimum wage.

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BC Minimum Wage Increase Now in Effect

B.C. and Canada Adopting Gender Identity and Gender Expression Human Rights Protections

Both the British Columbia and the Federal Government have recently introduced legislation to amend their respective human rights legislation to include gender identity and gender expression among the protected grounds of discrimination. These amendments will mean that individuals will have a right under the respective legislation to make a complaint if they have been discriminated against because of their gender identity or expression, including in employment settings.

Federally regulated employers and employers in British Columbia should review and update their policies on non-discrimination to ensure that these two new prohibited grounds of discrimination are covered.

British Columbia’s Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2016, S.B.C. 2016, c.26 was passed on July 25, 2016 and came into force on July 28, 2016 whereas the Federal Bill C-16 passed first reading in the House of Commons on May 17, 2016 and has yet to become law.

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B.C. and Canada Adopting Gender Identity and Gender Expression Human Rights Protections

Employee Time Off to Vote in the Upcoming Federal Election

Canadians head for the polls in the federal election on Monday, October 19, 2015.  The Canada Elections Act provides that with the exception of certain employees in the transportation sector, every employee who is an elector is entitled to have three consecutive hours away from work during voting hours for the purpose of casting his or her vote. In most cases, this will not be an issue, since work schedules will already result in an employee having three consecutive hours off during voting hours.  If, however, an employee’s schedule at work is such that he or she does not already have three consecutive hours off to vote, the employer must, at a time chosen by the employer, allow each employee time off such that the employee has three consecutive hours free from work during voting hours.  Employers cannot make a deduction from the pay of an employee, or impose a penalty, for the time that the employer allows the employee to vote.

For example, if the voting hours in the riding are 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and the employee usually works from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., the hours of work will not allow for three consecutive hours for voting. To give the employee three consecutive hours to vote, the employer could allow the employee to arrive late (at 12:30 p.m.), let the employee leave early (at 6:30 p.m.), or give the employee three hours off at some point during the work day.  Notwithstanding the time off, the employee must still receive the full pay for the regular shift.

Polls are open for twelve hours on election day but voting hours vary across Canada. For more information, please visit: http://www.elections.ca/home.aspx.

Employee Time Off to Vote in the Upcoming Federal Election

Minimum Wage Increase Now In Effect in many Canadian Provinces

On October 1, 2015, the minimum wage in Alberta, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario and Saskatchewan has increased.

Province Current General Minimum Wage (as of October 1, 2015) Previous General Minimum Wage
     
Alberta $11.20/hour $10.20/hour
Manitoba $11.00/hour $10.70/hour
Newfoundland and Labrador $10.50/hour $10.25/hour
Ontario $11.25/hour $11.00/hour
Saskatchewan $10.50/hour $10.20/hour

 

Please note that there are different minimum wage requirements in many provinces that depend on the classification of the worker, such as liquor servers.

Employers are reminded to update their employment contracts and practices to ensure they reflect the new minimum wage

Minimum Wage Increase Now In Effect in many Canadian Provinces

SCC Says Suspension with Pay can Amount to Constructive Dismissal

A non-unionized employee on an indefinite suspension with pay successfully claimed that he was constructively dismissed by his employer and was entitled to damages for wrongful dismissal.

The case involved David Potter, an employee of the New Brunswick Legal Aid Services Commission.  When his relationship with the Commission started to deteriorate in the first half of a 7-year contract, Mr. Potter engaged in discussions with the Commission regarding a buyout of the remainder of his contract. Mr. Potter then took sick leave before the buyout negotiations were resolved and was advised during his sick leave not to return to work “until further direction”. Mr. Potter’s pay was continued during the suspension, but the Commission delegated Mr. Potter’s powers and duties to another person and, unbeknownst to Mr. Potter at the time, the Commission wrote to the Minister of Justice recommending the revocation of Mr. Potter’s appointment for cause.

Unlike an explicit termination of employment, constructive dismissal exists when the employer engages in an act or conduct that shows an intention to no longer be bound by the original employment contract. The Supreme Court acknowledged that the test for constructive dismissal has two branches.

The first branch consists of two “steps”, and requires a review of the express and implied terms of the contract. The first step requires that the employee establish that the employer’s unilateral change constituted a breach of either the implied or express terms of the employment contract and, if it does constitute such a breach, it must be found to substantially alter an essential term of the contract.  The second step of the first branch examines whether a reasonable person in the same situation as the employee would have felt that the essential terms of the employment contract were being substantially changed at the time the breach occurred based on the information known to the employee at the time of the breach.

The second branch requires an examination of whether the employer’s conduct demonstrates an intention not to be bound by the contract, giving the employee the right to treat the contract as being at an end.  Under the second branch of the test for constructive dismissal, constructive dismissal can be found even where there is no breach of any term in the employment contract, or where the breach is not substantial; it focuses on the employer’s actions in relation to the contract more generally.  When examining this branch, it is the totality of the employer’s conduct, including conduct engaged in by the employer of which the employee was not aware at the time, that is taken into consideration in determining the employer’s intent.

If either branch is established, the employee has the choice of either accepting the act or conduct engaged in by the employer, or, if the act or conduct affects the employment contract in a “fundamental” way, the employee can treat the employer’s conduct as a repudiation of the contract and sue for wrongful dismissal.

Applying the test above to the facts of the case, a majority of the Court found that there were no express or implied terms of Mr. Potter’s contract that permitted the Commission to suspend him indefinitely without explanation:  the Commission had an obligation to provide Mr. Potter with work. The Court found that the Commission had a duty to be honest, reasonable, candid and forthright in its suspension of Mr. Potter, and concluded that the Commission had not established that the suspension was reasonable in the circumstances; rather, it was reasonable for Mr. Potter to perceive the indefinite, unexplained, unauthorized and unilateral suspension as a substantial change to his contract, and he did not acquiesce to the change. Thus the first branch of the test for constructive dismissal had been proven.

This case is a warning about the use of indefinite suspensions, even if the employee is paid during such a suspension. When contemplating a suspension, employers should be mindful that the overriding question is whether the suspension is reasonable and justified. Employers must demonstrate good faith, including being honest and forthright.  If suspending an employee (even with pay), an employer should advise the employee of both the reasons for and the anticipated duration of the suspension.  Employers should also review their employment contracts to determine whether suspensions are expressly permitted, and if not expressly permitted, give consideration to adding a suspension clause to future employment contracts, or carefully negotiating a suspension clause into existing contracts, to reduce the risk of constructive dismissal.  Alternatively, if an employer has a policy on suspensions, this can assist in arguing that the terms of the contract were not violated.

Potter v New Brunswick Legal Aid Services Commission, 2015 SCC 10

SCC Says Suspension with Pay can Amount to Constructive Dismissal

BC and Ontario Employers Take Note: Upcoming Minimum Wage Changes

Ontario
Last fall the Ontario Employment Standards Act, 2000 was amended to index increases to the minimum wage to Ontario’s Consumer Price Index.  Putting that into effect, Ontario is raising the general minimum wage from $11 to $11.25 per hour, effective October 1, 2015.  The minimum wage rates in Ontario for jobs in special categories (liquor servers, homeworkers, students, etc.) are increasing at the same time, and those can be found here:  Minimum wage rates.

BC
The B.C. government has announced that it will also index increases in the general minimum hourly wage and the liquor server wage to B.C.’s Consumer Price Index.  As a result, effective September 15, 2015, the BC general minimum wage will increase from $10.25 to $10.45 and the liquor server wage from $9.00 to $9.20 per hour.  Also effective September 15, 2015, the daily rate for live-in home support workers and live-in camp leaders, as well as the monthly rates for resident caretakers and the farm worker piece rates (for harvesters of certain fruits and vegetables) will be increased proportionate to the 20-cent increase in the general minimum hourly wage.

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BC and Ontario Employers Take Note: Upcoming Minimum Wage Changes

Significant Changes Proposed to Ontario’s Workplace Laws

Ontario’s government introduced workplace legislation on July 16, 2014 that would affect five labour and employment statutes in the province. Significant changes that are proposed in the Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, 2014 include:

  • Eliminating the $10,000 cap on the recovery of unpaid wages by employees through the Ministry of Labour claim process under the Employment Standards Act, 2000;
  • Increasing the limitation period to two years for employees to recover unpaid wages through the Ministry of Labour claim process under the Employment Standards Act, 2000.  The current limitation period is six months or one year depending on the type of claim;
  • Requiring employers to provide each of their employees with a copy of the most recent poster published by the Ministry of Labour that provides information about the Employment Standards Act, 2000. An employer must provide available translations of the poster if requested by an employee;
  • Making temporary help agencies and their clients jointly and severally liable for unpaid regular wages and unpaid overtime pay;
  • Requiring the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board to assign workplace injury and accident costs to temporary help agency clients when an employee is injured while performing work for the agency’s client;
  • Extending the safety protections under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to unpaid workers receiving training under prescribed conditions;
  • Decreasing the construction industry’s open period, when construction workers can join a different union close to the end of the term of their collective agreement, from three months to two months;
  • Expanding employment protections for foreign nationals who are in Ontario under an immigration or foreign temporary employee program. The protections include a prohibition on charging a recruiter fee or taking possession of the foreign national’s property, such as their passport or work permit; and
  • Tying future minimum wage increases under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 to the Consumer Price Index. The new minimum wage will be announced by April 1 of each year and will come into effect on October 1.

It is currently unclear when the proposed changes will be passed by the Ontario legislature. We will keep you apprised of any developments.

A copy of the Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, 2014 can be found here: http://www.ontla.on.ca/bills/bills-files/41_Parliament/Session1/b018.pdf

Significant Changes Proposed to Ontario’s Workplace Laws

Contract Requiring Ex-Employee to Compensate Former Employer for Competing Ruled Enforceable in British Columbia

A recent decision of the B.C. Court of Appeal has endorsed a novel approach to post-employment competition by upholding an employment contract whereby the employee was required to compensate the employer if she competed soon after her employment ended. In Rhebergen v. Creston Veterinary Clinic Ltd., 2014 BCCA 97, a newly licensed veterinarian signed a three-year employment contract with an established veterinarian clinic in a rural community. Under the contract, the veterinarian was required to pay her employer a set amount if she set up a practice in the same area within three years of the employment contract being terminated. The veterinarian left the clinic after fourteen months and soon established a mobile veterinary practice in the area. The veterinarian went to court to have the payment clause declared unenforceable.

The Court recognized that there were two approaches in establishing whether such a clause was a restraint of trade, either a “functional” approach, which asks whether the clause attempts to, or effectively does, restrain trade, or a “formalist” approach, in which the clause must be structured as a prohibition against competition, which does not include “mere disincentives”. The formalist approach is more commonly used in Ontario, but the B.C. Court of Appeal adopted the functional approach in its analysis, and concluded that the clause was, in fact, a restraint of trade.

Notwithstanding that the clause was found to be a restraint of trade, the Court held that the clause was not a penalty because it reasonably compensated the employer for the costs incurred in training the new veterinarian. The Court split on whether the clause was ambiguous and therefore unenforceable. A non-competition clause is ambiguous if it is not clear as to activity, time or geography. The majority of the Court concluded that there was only one reasonable interpretation to the clause and it was not ambiguous. The clause was therefore enforceable by the employer, and the veterinarian was required to pay the amounts under the contract to her former employer as a result of her competition.

This case demonstrates the continually evolving nature of post-employment covenants, and the fact that courts will give employers some latitude to develop contractual “tools” to provide protection (or at least give financial compensation) in the event a former employee engages in competition soon after employment. The fact that the Court of Appeal was not unanimous demonstrates, however, that this is a complex area requiring careful drafting of contractual terms.

A copy of the B.C. Court of Appeal decision can be found here: http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/CA/14/00/2014BCCA0097.htm

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Contract Requiring Ex-Employee to Compensate Former Employer for Competing Ruled Enforceable in British Columbia

Human Rights Tribunal Has No Jurisdiction to Hear Equity Partner’s Human Rights Complaint in British Columbia

 The British Columbia Court of Appeal has unanimously held that the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal did not have jurisdiction under the BC Human Rights Code to hear an age discrimination complaint filed by a lawyer against a national law firm – a limited liability partnership – in which he was an equity partner.

As part of the law firm’s partnership agreement, there was a mandatory retirement age of 65. The partner filed a human rights complaint on the basis that he was discriminated against by the partnership on the basis of age. The Court of Appeal rejected the argument that a partner could be “employed” for the purposes of the BC Human Rights Code and found that there was no “employment” relationship between the law firm and its partner.  As such, the partner could not advance a human rights complaint that he was discriminated against in “employment”.

The Court of Appeal set aside the decision of the Human Rights Tribunal and the BC Supreme Court, both of which had held that the partner was employed, for the purposes of the BC Human Rights Code, and thus was entitled to advance the age discrimination complaint.

A copy of the decision can be found here: http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/CA/12/03/2012BCCA0313.htm

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Human Rights Tribunal Has No Jurisdiction to Hear Equity Partner’s Human Rights Complaint in British Columbia