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A Reference Guide for Reference Letters

One of the more confusing issues that employers deal with is what to do in the face a request for a reference letter by a departing employee. While dealing with a reference letter for a stellar employee is easy, the task becomes more difficult when determining what to do with a request for a reference letter from an employee whom the employer was glad to see go or whom the employer was forced to dismiss.

A.  When should a reference letter be provided?

There are two reasons why an employer should think carefully before refusing to provide a letter of reference to a departing employee.

First, a reference letter generally assists a departing employee in finding new employment. As a result, on a practical level it is usually in the best interest of both the employer and the employee for the employer to provide a reference letter.

Second, in Canada the courts impose a duty of good faith and fair dealing in their treatment of departing employees. As part of this duty, employers are expected to be candid, reasonable and honest in dealing with departing employees. Where an employer breaches this duty, the employer may be held liable for damages to the employee that arise as a result of the breach.

One of the obligations that has been identified as part of the duty of good faith and fair dealing is for the employer to provide a letter of reference to a departing employee where there is no legitimate reason for refusing the request. For example, employers have been found to have breached their duties of good faith where the refusal to provide a letter of reference was calculated to purposefully make it harder for an employee to find new employment, to pressure the employee into settling a wrongful dismissal claim or to punish the employee. As a result, an employer must have a legitimate reason for refusing to provide a letter of reference. Where there are no specific performance issues and the employee was not terminated for cause, the safest course is to provide a letter of reference.

As a consequence, the better practice is to only refuse to provide a letter of reference in cases where the employer has a legitimate reason for the refusal, such as where the employee’s performance during employment was unsatisfactory.

B.  What should the reference letter say?

Reference letters can cover the range from a glowing endorsement, to a neutral confirmation of employment to a warning to prospective employers regarding a highly unsuitable employee. In order to know how to approach the reference letter, it is important to know something of potential liabilities.

For the most part the liability that arises out of authoring a reference letter is governed by the law of tort with liability focusing on two primary groups of potential claimants – the former employee and the new employer.

a) Liability Toward the Departing Employee

With respect to the former employee, claims will generally arise as a result of a negative reference letter that damages the former employee’s reputation or interferes with the former employee’s ability to find work and maintain employment. In order for liability to attach, the former employee will have to show that the letter materially affected his or her ability to find work and that the negative reference was either untruthful or misleading in some way. Common examples of such liability include:

  • Liability in defamation for statements made about the employee in a reference letter that are untrue and are damaging to the employee’s reputation;
  • Liability under the principles of interference with contractual relations or inducement of breach of contract where an untrue reference provided by the former employer causes the employee’s current employer to terminate the former employee’s employment. A common example of this would be where a former employer decides to unfairly “blackball” a former employee in a particular industry;
  • Liability in the form of increased exposure to damages in the case of a wrongfully dismissed employee where the employee is unable to find alternative employment as quickly as he or she may have otherwise found alternative employment due to a misleading or untruthful reference; and
  • Liability imposed as a result of a breach of the duty of good faith as a result of the employer providing a misleading or untruthful reference.

b) Liability Toward a Prospective Employer

In contrast to the liabilities that may arise with respect to former employees, the liability that may arise with respect to prospective employers is usually based on reference letters that are unjustifiably positive.

In general terms such liability arises out of the principles of negligent misrepresentation. Liability for negligent misrepresentation can arise where a prospective employer reasonably relies on a misleading positive reference from a former employer in making a hiring decision that goes very badly.

An example of such a situation might be where a former employer who has terminated an employee for theft proceeds to negligently provide a positive reference for the employee to a prospective employer for a position where the employee will be handling large sums of cash in an unsupervised position. Should the employee subsequently steal from his or her new employer, the former employer may be held at least partially liable for the loss.

c) Avoiding Problems

To avoid problems, there are a number of guidelines to follow.

  1. Make sure the information in your reference letters is accurate. Most if not all liability arises out of reference letters that are either misleading or untrue.
  2. Avoid subjective opinions and stick to objective facts.
  3. Do not use reference letters to “punish” a former employee or make it more difficult for the former employee to find alternate employment.
  4. Use caution in drafting negative reference letters. Negative reference letters should be reserved for the clearest of cases involving employee misconduct that is objectively verifiable and well documented. When in doubt, the employer should err on the side of caution and either refuse to provide a reference or in more marginal cases provide a neutral reference that merely provides confirmation of past employment without any comment on the employee’s suitability.

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A Reference Guide for Reference Letters

Limiting Liability: Incentives and Benefits on Termination of Employment

You’ve terminated an employee without cause, what do you owe them? It may be more than you think.

As a starting position, employees are entitled to compensation for what they would have earned during a reasonable period of notice, unless that right is limited by specific agreement. This includes all elements of an employee’s compensation.

Employment agreements often set an agreed notice period in the event of without-cause termination, limiting the broad and unpredictable common law notice period to some other (presumably shorter) length of time, such as the minimum notice period under employment standards legislation. In any event, if the employer wants to provide payment in lieu of working notice, what must be paid?

Not all of an employee’s compensation is contained in the four corners of the employment agreement. The entitlements under any benefit or incentive plan (such as a bonus, stock option or registered pension plan) need to be accounted for when determining damages arising from termination without cause. For instance, what is the terminated employee’s entitlement to options that vest during the notice period? What about scheduled bonuses? Is an employee entitled to remain a member of the pension plan throughout any notice period?

The answer lies in the text of the relevant agreement, be it a stock option agreement, a particular stock option grant, a bonus plan, a pension plan or some other agreement. Just as with employment agreements, the terms of a benefit or incentive plan can limit an employee’s post-termination entitlement – including restricting participation to periods of active employment – but only to the extent that the plan terms are clear and unambiguous, and are brought to the employee’s attention when they are introduced. The general legal principles are:

  • An employee’s rights and obligations are generally governed by the terms of the agreement.
  • If an employee’s entitlement is limited, but the limiting language is ambiguous, a court will typically resolve the ambiguity in the employee’s favour. This is especially true if the agreement was imposed by the employer without negotiation.
  • If the agreement is unambiguous and clearly states that the employee’s rights are limited in a specific way, including on a dismissal without cause, the agreement should govern, as long as (1) the employee was provided with a copy of the plan and/or advised of the plan language during employment, such as through a benefit booklet; and (2) the plan otherwise complies with employment standards legislation.

So a plan/agreement may rebut the principle that the benefit continues during the common law notice period, as long as it clearly and unambiguously states that any right to participate in the plan ends on the later of (i) the day active employment ends (i.e., does not continue into the notice period); or (ii) the end of the minimum period during which benefits must be continued by legislation (for instance, Ontario’s Employment Standards Act, 2000 requires that employers maintain a terminated employee’s benefits during the statutory notice period).  In that case, the agreement will stand and plan participation will end accordingly. However, if the language of the plan is unclear, the employee will be entitled to any benefit that would have accrued during the notice period.

It is important to keep in mind that the threshold for clarity is high and can be difficult to meet in cases of termination without cause. For example, Canadian courts have, in certain circumstances, decided that the terms “termination for any cause” or “involuntary termination” were not sufficiently clear or unambiguous to prohibit continuation during the reasonable notice period, because it was not clear in the plan whether employment was “terminated” as of the last day of work, or at the end of the common law notice period.

If you are looking for clarity and predictability in settling severance packages, you should set clear and unambiguous parameters on notice periods and post-termination entitlements, not only in your employment agreements, but also in the documents that make up your benefits and incentive programs.

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Limiting Liability: Incentives and Benefits on Termination of Employment

Critical employment issues facing multinational employers

Join Dentons’ global Employment and Labour practice group for a unique, multi-country panel discussion examining critical employment issues that multinational employers face. The event will be held in person in our New York office and broadcast via webinar.

Agenda and speakers
Panels moderated by global practice leader Brian Cousin

Wednesday, June 29, 2016
3:45 p.m. – Registration
4:30 p.m. – Program
7 p.m. – Cocktail reception

Registration (3:45–4:30 p.m.)

Avoiding Violations of Employee Privacy Rights (4:30–5:20 p.m.) Neil Capobianco (US), Dante Trevedan (Mexico), Michael Bronstein (UK), Katell Deniel-Allioux (France), Markus Diepold (Germany), Grace Aoshuang Young (China), Jeff Mitchell (Canada)

Break (5:20–5:30 p.m.)

Implementing an Effective Restrictive Covenants Strategy (5:30–6:30 p.m) Richard Scharlat (US), Dante Trevedan (Mexico), Michael Bronstein (UK), Katell Deniel-Allioux (France), Markus Diepold (Germany), Grace Aoshuang Young (China), Jeff Mitchell (Canada)

Best Practices in Coordinating Global Human Resource Solutions (6:30–7 p.m.) Richard Scharlat (US), Katell Deniel-Allioux (France)

After the discussion, please stay for a networking cocktail reception.

Venue
Dentons
Tribeca conference room
1221 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY | Map

Questions For more information, please contact Susan DeLeva at +1 212 398 8474.

Click here to RSVP

Critical employment issues facing multinational employers

Fixed Term Contracts: Damages for “trouble and inconvenience”

In a recent decision[1], the Superior Court of Quebec held that the termination of a fixed term contract of employment constitutes a breach of contract which may allow for an award of damages for “troubles and inconveniences” suffered by the employee, in addition to damages for early termination.

The Plaintiff had been terminated without cause 15 months before the expiry of the term of his employment contract. The Court concluded that the unilateral termination of the Plaintiff’s fixed term contract was illegal and ordered the Employer to pay the Plaintiff an indemnity equivalent to the wages he should have received until the end of the contract.

The main interest of this case is the Plaintiff’s claim for $50,000 as damages for “troubles and inconveniences”, which required the Court to consider whether such damages could be compensated in the context of a fixed term contract of employment.

In its analysis, the Court first establishes that, while the termination of the Plaintiff was not based on serious grounds, it was not made in an abusive or humiliating fashion. However, the judge accepted that it had nonetheless caused severe stress and anxiety to the Plaintiff, as is almost always the case when a person is terminated.

The Court noted that according to a well-established jurisprudence[2], in the case of an indeterminate term contract, its unilateral termination by the employer is not, in itself, a civil fault, even if it prejudices the employee. Consequently, except when the termination is made in an abusive way, the compensation for troubles and inconveniences is not available to the employee. This rationale is grounded in the principle that either party to an indeterminate term contract of employment may terminate it by giving notice of its termination to the other party, as recognized under Section 2091 of the Civil Code of Quebec.

However, a fixed term contract is binding on the parties until its expiry and may only be unilaterally resiliated for a serious reason. Thus, the employer who, without a serious reason, resiliates the fixed term contract of an employee does not exercise a right, but rather breaches one of its contractual duties. If the evidence shows that this breach of contract caused troubles and inconveniences, such as stress or anxiety, the terminated employee could be compensated for these damages. In this matter, the Court awarded the Plaintiff $5,000 for troubles and inconveniences.

Thus, according to this decision, a distinction must be made between the unilateral resiliation of indeterminate and fixed term contracts with regards to the award of damages for non-pecuniary loss.

[1] Bouasse v. Gemme canadienne PA inc., 2016 QCCS 1263.

[2] 1994 CanLII 5837 (QC CA).

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Fixed Term Contracts: Damages for “trouble and inconvenience”

The Duty to Provide Reasonable Notice of Termination Cuts Both Ways

It is a relatively little-known fact to non-lawyers that just as employers are required to provide employees with reasonable notice of termination, employees are likewise required to provide employers with reasonable notice of resignation.  A 2016 Ontario Superior Court of Justice case has recently confirmed same.

In the case of Gagnon & Associates Inc. v. Jesso et al., the company sought damages from employee Barry Jesso (“Jesso”) for having resigned his employment without notice.  Jesso had been employed by Gagnon & Associates Inc. (the “Company”) for 10 years and at the time of resignation was responsible for approximately 30% of the Company’s annual HVAC sales.  His colleague Patrice Comeau, also a defendant in the litigation, was responsible for a further 30% of the Company’s annual sales.  In 2006 Jesso and Comeau approached one of the Company’s competitors and entered into an agreement with it to open a satellite office.  It was at that point that they both provided the Company with their notices of resignation.

The court stated that the notice of resignation period required by an employee will be a function of the employee’s position with the employer and the time that it would reasonably take the employer to replace the employee or otherwise take steps to adjust to the loss of the employee.  The court then made a finding on the evidence that although Jesso was not a fiduciary employee, a reasonable notice of resignation period was 2 months given that: (i) Jesso was responsible for a significant percentage of the Company’s sales; (ii) the market for experienced HVAC salespeople was limited and it would likely take approximately 2 months to find a replacement; and (iii) Jesso knew that the Company’s other senior salesperson was resigning on the same day, thereby putting the Company in a very difficult position.

It is important to bear in mind that where an employee has signed a proper employment agreement which sets out a notice of resignation period, the employee will probably be bound by that contractual provision.  Likewise, for employees who work in jurisdictions that have employment standards legislation containing a notice of resignation provision, they may be bound by same.  Finally, there is a long line of separate case-law which confirms that fiduciary employees have obligations to provide reasonable notice of resignation to their employers.  That said, the Gagnon v. Jesso case is a helpful reminder that even when there is no contract, no legislation and no fiduciary relationship, an employee may still owe his or her employer a reasonable notice of resignation period.

The case of Gagnon & Associates Inc. v. Jesso et al. can be found here:  https://www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2016/2016onsc209/2016onsc209.html?autocompleteStr=gagnon%20%26%20associates&autocompletePos=3.

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The Duty to Provide Reasonable Notice of Termination Cuts Both Ways

Court finds termination clause purporting to limit a 17-year employee’s termination notice to the 8 week statutory minimum to be “clear, express and unambiguous”

An Alberta court recently had the opportunity to consider the question of whether a termination clause was effective to take away an employee’s entitlement to pay in lieu of notice of termination in excess of the minimum set out in the Alberta Employment Standards Code (“Code”). The Plaintiff in this case was a 17 year employee who was terminated without cause. The employer paid her the equivalent of 8 weeks salary, relying on a termination clause in the employment agreement which purported to limit her termination notice to the amount required under the Code. Given her length of service, the employee was entitled to the maximum of 8 weeks.

The Plaintiff sued for wrongful dismissal and applied for summary judgment. The sole issue for the summary judgment application was whether the termination clause barred the Plaintiff’s claim for damages beyond the 8 weeks. The clause in question stated:

In the event that [the employer] terminates your employment without cause, [the employer] will provide the notice or pay in lieu of notice required by the Alberta Employments Standard [sic] Code or other applicable legislation. You are not entitled to any other termination notice, pay in lieu of notice, or other benefits.

The Court considered the termination clause to be “clear, express and unambiguous” and stated that it was “difficult to think of wording that might make the employer’s intention any clearer”. The Court therefore dismissed the Plaintiff’s application, finding that the employer’s defence that the claim was barred by the termination clause had merit, and accordingly the matter should proceed to trial, absent an application by the employer for summary dismissal.

This decision provides helpful guidance to employers, although it is important to note that there is also a significant body of case law invalidating termination provisions. As recognized by the Court in this case, in order for an agreement to exclude an employee’s common law notice, it must be clear and unambiguous. Because section 3 of the Code preserves an employee’s common law rights, merely referring to the notice required under the Code has, in other cases, not been considered sufficient to limit an employee to the minimum notice requirements under the Code. Absent a reference to the specific termination notice sections of the Code (sections 56 and 57) or wording such as “the minimum requirements under the Code”, some decisions have found that similarly-worded termination clauses did not take away the employee’s common law right to reasonable notice, although each case needs to be decided on its individual facts.

This case emphasizes the importance of careful drafting of termination provisions, and shows that if done correctly, an employer can significantly reduce its liability on a termination without cause.

Stangenberg v Bellamy Software, 2016 ABQB 160

http://www.canlii.org/en/ab/abqb/doc/2016/2016abqb160/2016abqb160.pdf

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Court finds termination clause purporting to limit a 17-year employee’s termination notice to the 8 week statutory minimum to be “clear, express and unambiguous”

Watch Out: Ontario Ministry of Labour Inspection Blitzes/Initiatives Are Coming

The Ontario Ministry of Labour recently announced its 2016 and 2017 enforcement blitz and initiative schedule. In an effort to emphasize the importance of protecting workers’ rights and ensuring employer compliance with both the Occupational Health and Safety Act (the “OHSA”) and the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the “ESA”), the Ministry has prepared a coordinated inspection blitz schedule under the Employment Standards Program and the Occupational Health and Safety Program. The blitzes commence this month and are set to continue until March 2017.

The Employment Standards inspection blitzes will focus on high-risk sectors where there is a history of ESA violations and/or where young workers, vulnerable workers and/or an increasing number of Ontarians are employed. This will include the following sectors: Construction, Food Services, Retail Trade, Professional Services, Services to Buildings and Dwellings, Other Amusement and Recreation Industries, and Personal Care Services.

The OHSA inspection blitzes will focus on sector-specific hazards with the aim of raising awareness and increasing compliance with the OHSA. The provincial OHSA Blitzes will target the Construction, Industrial and Mining Sectors with a focus on: Falls, New and Young Workers, Mobile Cranes and Material Hoisting, and Safe Material Tramming Underground.

In addition to province-wide blitzes, the Ministry will conduct local blitzes in predetermined regions throughout the province targeting specific sectors. For the ESA blitzes this will include the Child Day-Care Services, Manufacturing, Fitness Centres, Tow Truck Companies, and Small Manufacturing sectors; for the OHSA blitzes this will include the Industrial and Construction sectors.

The Ministry will report the results of its inspections shortly after they are completed and will track its findings to ensure improvements in compliance and fewer workplace injuries. The Ministry reports that since 2005, it has recovered over $144 million in wages and other money owed to employees through its inspections, claims and collections and, since 2008, has issued more than one million compliance orders for safety issues across all sectors.

Even if you are not in a targeted sector, be aware that in addition to the 2016/2017 inspection blitzes, the Ministry’s officers will continue to conduct their ongoing enforcement efforts, so they may still show up at your door. As such, all employers, and particularly those in sectors targeted by the 2016/2017 blitzes, should take steps to ensure that their workplaces are compliant with both the ESA and OHSA. The Ministry of Labour’s Inspection Blitzes and Initiatives Announcement and 2016-2017 Schedules can be found here.

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Watch Out: Ontario Ministry of Labour Inspection Blitzes/Initiatives Are Coming

Early Termination of Fixed Term Contract Results in Employee Windfall (Or the Dangers of Dubious Drafting)

The Ontario Court of Appeal recently awarded an employee, whose fixed-term contract was terminated on a without cause basis twenty-three months into a five-year term, damages reflecting the balance of his remuneration under the Agreement.

The employee, John Howard, was employed in a management position pursuant to a five-year fixed-term Agreement, which provided for early termination in the event of his resignation, by the employer for cause, or by the employer without cause. If his employment was terminated without cause, the Agreement stated that “… any amounts paid to the Employee shall be in accordance with the Employment Standards Act of Ontario”.

Mr. Howard’s employment was terminated and he brought an action for breach of contract, seeking damages reflecting his remuneration for the balance of the contract, which equated to over three years’ of salary and benefits. In defence, his employer argued that any damages should be limited to the two weeks’ he was entitled to under the legislation.

Mr. Howard sought a motion for summary judgment which the motions judge granted, finding that the clause which provided for early without cause termination was unenforceable due to ambiguity. However, the motions judge did not award Mr. Howard the balance owing to him under his agreement, but rather, awarded him reasonable notice of termination at common law, subject to the duty to mitigate, all of which was to be determined at a mini trial. Mr. Howard appealed. Notably, there was no appeal of the motion judge’s determination that the termination clause in question was unenforceable.

Setting aside the decision of the motions judge on the issue of damages, the Court of Appeal confirmed the common law presumption that every employment contract includes an implied term that an employer must provide reasonable notice to an employee prior to termination of employment, but held that by virtue of choosing a fixed-term arrangement, the parties had “unambiguously ousted” this implied term in favour of a contractual obligation of a five year term.

According to the Court of Appeal, after the parties contracted out of the implied obligation for reasonable notice in this case, Mr. Howard was entitled to receive the balance of his remuneration under the agreement in the event of early termination because the contract did not otherwise specify a pre-determined notice period in the event of the same.

In other words, because the without cause termination clause was unenforceable, it could not operate to reduce Mr. Howard’s damages where reasonable notice was otherwise ousted. The Court rejected the employer’s arguments that this created an unfair windfall for Mr. Howard, as the employer was sophisticated, had drafted the agreement, had elected for a fixed term, and had attempted to limit its liability in the case of early without cause termination to legislative minimums. That this latter clause failed to meet the standards imposed by the courts was inconsequential: “If an employer does not use unequivocal, clear language and instead drafts an ambiguous or vague termination clause that is later found to be unenforceable, it cannot complain when it is held to the remaining terms of the contract”.

The Court then held, consistent with previous decisions regarding liquidated damages, that without a contractual requirement to mitigate his loss, Mr. Howard was under no obligation to do so. Where a contract stipulates the penalty for early termination there is no implied duty to mitigate–it matters not whether the penalty is stated expressly, or is by default the balance of the wages and benefits under the agreement. As a result, Mr. Howard was entitled to 3 years of compensation, with no obligation to mitigate.

This case is yet another example of the dangers of using fixed term contracts, and the importance of drafting clear, unambiguous termination provisions.

The Court’s decision can be found at Howard v. Benson Group Inc. (The Benson Group Inc.), 2016 ONCA 256 http://www.ontariocourts.ca/decisions/2016/2016ONCA0256.htm

Early Termination of Fixed Term Contract Results in Employee Windfall (Or the Dangers of Dubious Drafting)

UPDATE ON THE EXEMPTION FOR NON-RESIDENTS FROM PAYROLL WITHHOLDING

The Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) recently introduced a program to ease the administrative burden associated with Canadian withholding on the salary, wages, or other remuneration paid to non-resident employees performing their duties in Canada for a short period of time. These measures aim to remove certain ‘qualifying non-resident employers’ and ‘qualifying non-resident employees’ from the withholding requirements imposed under subsection 153(1) of the Income Tax Act (Canada) (the “Tax Act”). Furthermore, these measures will alleviate the need for qualifying non-resident employees to apply for waivers from withholding (commonly known as regulation 102 waivers).

THE EXISTING EMPLOYEE WITHHOLDING REGIME AND NON-RESIDENTS OF CANADA

The Tax Act imposes employee withholding on non-residents to the extent they perform any employment duties in Canada regardless of whether these non-resident employees will ever have an ultimate tax liability under the Tax Act (for instance where an income tax treaty applies). The Tax Act also imposes penalties for failure to withhold amounts required even where no tax would ultimately be payable. Amounts which are withheld and remitted can only be recovered by the employee if they file a Canadian income tax return.

To deal with such situations where a treaty applies, the CRA allows for employees resident in a country with which Canada has a tax treaty to apply for a regulation 102 waiver which can be presented to the employer in order to waive the withholding requirements. However, the process for obtaining a regulation 102 waiver requires at least thirty days of lead time and is time consuming to complete, making the application impractical in many situations. Moreover, the CRA has imposed its own administrative policies over and above the requirements set out in most treaties, making regulation 102 waivers costly and burdensome to obtain.

THE NEW EXEMPTION

Recognizing that the existing system was impractical for many business travelers, an additional program was announced, allowing “qualifying nonresident employers” to forego Canadian tax withholding on amounts paid to “qualifying non-resident employees”.

A ‘qualifying non-resident employee’ is defined in the Proposed Amendments to mean an employee who (a) is, at that time, resident in a country with which Canada has a tax treaty, (b) not liable to tax under Part I of the Tax Act in respect of the payment because of that treaty, and (c) works in Canada for less than 45 days in the calendar year that includes that time or is present in Canada for less than 90 days in any 12–month period that includes that time.

A ‘qualifying non-resident employer’ is defined in the Proposed Amendments to mean an employer whom, (a) is resident in a country with which Canada has a tax treaty, (b) does not, in the relevant year, carry on business through a permanent establishment in Canada, and (c) is certified by the CRA by making an application in the prescribed form at least 30 days prior to the employee performing the services in Canada.

Because of this arbitrary restriction set out in the Proposed Amendments, there could still be a large number of business travelers who will either be required to apply for a regulation 102 waiver, or be subject to withholding tax and be required to file a return to obtain a refund of the tax pursuant to protections under one of Canada’s tax treaties.

RECORD KEEPING AND REPORTING FOR QUALIFYING NON-RESIDENT EMPLOYERS

It should be noted that even though this process removes the employer from the withholding and remitting requirements for qualifying non-resident employees, certain reporting obligations remain. Qualifying nonresident employers will be required to:

  1. determine whether the employees are resident in a country with which Canada has a tax treaty,
  2. track and record the number of days each employee is either working in Canada or is present in Canada and the income attributable to these days,
  3. complete and file the applicable Canadian income tax returns for the calendar years under certification, and
  4. prepare and file a T4 Summary and Information Return for the employees that are not excluded by proposed subsection 200(1.1) of the Regulations.

Proposed subsection 200(1.1) of the Regulations exempts T4 reporting for amounts that qualify under these new exemptions if the employer, after reasonable inquiry, has no reason to believe that the employee’s total amount of taxable income earned in Canada under Part I of the Act during the calendar year is more than $10,000.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR NON-CANADIAN BUSINESSES

While these new exemptions do not cover every type of business traveler to Canada, they are very helpful for employers that periodically send employees to Canada for short periods of time. This is especially true in circumstances where business trips are unplanned or occur in a manner that does not allow sufficient time to obtain a regulation 102 waiver. For these non-resident employers, it will certainly be easier to comply with this new program, rather than rushing employees to obtain a regulation 102 waiver or withholding and remitting tax on the employees’ behalf. Once in the program, qualifying non-resident employers should continue to monitor employee travel and require employees that will be working in Canada for more than 45 days or present in Canada for more than 90 days to apply for regulation 102 waivers to ensure no withholding will be required.

We would be pleased to assist should you require assistance in making an application for the new program.

 – –Larry Nevsky, Associate, Dentons Canada LLP, [Toronto].(A modified version of this article originally appeared in CCH Tax Topics, number 2289, January 21, 2016).

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UPDATE ON THE EXEMPTION FOR NON-RESIDENTS FROM PAYROLL WITHHOLDING

Terminating for Financial Reasons? Don’t Expect the Courts to Help You Out

Employers who undertake reductions in force due to financial difficulties should not count on employee notice periods being reduced as a result of the financial troubles.  This point was recently emphasized by the Ontario Court of Appeal in the decision of Michela v. St. Thomas of Villanova Catholic School.

Michela, Gomes and Carnovale were long-term teachers at St. Thomas of Villanova Catholic School, with 11, 13 and 8 years of service respectively.  All worked under a series of one-year contracts.  In May of 2013, the employer advised each of them in writing that they would not receive a contract renewal for the coming year because enrolment was expected to be lower.  Subsequently, in June of 2013 each of them was provided with a termination letter and advised that notice was not owed because they were employed pursuant to fixed-term contracts.

The claims were dealt with by summary judgment, and the motions judge determined that due to the succession of fixed-term contracts, the employees were really indefinite term employees and entitled to common law notice of termination.  However in determining that the reasonable notice period for each employee should be 6 months rather than the 12 months which was claimed, the judge made reference to the employer’s poor financial position.
In overturning the decision, the Court of Appeal made reference to the Bardal factors used to calculate reasonable notice at common law: the employee’s character of employment, length of service, age, and availability of similar employment having regard to experience, training and qualifications.  The Court found that the motions judge had mistakenly viewed “character of employment” through the lens of the employer rather than the employees, and stated that the financial position of the employer does not factor into the calculation of reasonable notice.  The court confirmed that while an employer’s financial position may be the reason for a termination without cause, the financial position of the employer does not justify a reduction in the notice period in bad times nor an increase when times are good.

For employers considering reductions in force during difficult times, it may be best to consider other options such as a temporary layoffs, ensuring that proper termination provisions are in place which provide only statutory minimums in the event of termination, or the provision of working notice.  While legal advice should be sought in order to ensure the best plan of action, it is clear at the very least that employers should not count on a reduced notice period due to a difficult financial position.

The decision in Michela v. St. Thomas of Villanova Catholic School can be read here:  http://www.ontariocourts.ca/decisions/2015/2015ONCA0801.htm.

Terminating for Financial Reasons? Don’t Expect the Courts to Help You Out