Employers Must Be Able To Prove Termination for Cause is Warranted
August 27, 2021
People’s careers play a significant role in their lives, and the importance of work means there are a number of laws in place to ensure the rights of employees are protected. This is especially true as it relates to termination. Generally speaking, people cannot be terminated from employment without compensation, which is usually provided in the form of notice of termination that provides employees with time to start looking for a new job, or in the form of compensation in lieu of notice. An exception to this is when someone is terminated for cause, meaning their behaviour or actions were bad enough that they can be terminated without any compensation at all. A recent decision from the Provincial Court of Alberta looks at a situation where an employer fired an employee for cause but had a hard time demonstrating their actions warranted such a severe outcome.
Employee terminated due to incorrect time entry
The employee started working for the employer as an office administrator in 2014. Her responsibilities were as an office manager and bookkeeper. She returned from sick leave on February 27, 2018, and was terminated shortly thereafter.
The employer did not give the employee notice or payment in lieu of notice, stating she was terminated for just cause. The facts of the situation that led to the termination were not in dispute. The employee was entering her time upon her return from sick leave and indicated she had worked on February 16, 2018, when she had in fact been out sick. Upon learning of this, the employer terminated her. The employee said the time entry had been made in error, but the employer said it was done purposefully and warranted termination.
Were the employee’s actions serious enough to justify firing her?
The court took some time explaining that reasonable notice is required in most situations, except those where there is just cause for termination. The court quoted a 1967 decision from the Ontario Court of Appeal, which stated,
“If an employee has been guilty of serious misconduct, habitual neglect of duty, incompetence or conduct incompatible with his duties, or prejudicial to the employer’s business, or if he has been guilty of willful disobedience to the employer’s orders in a matter of substance, the law recognizes the employer’s right to dismiss the delinquent employee.”
The court also cited a recent decision from the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench which stated that when an employer alleges an employee was terminated for cause, they have a burden of proof for establishing that cause.
The court looked at the facts surrounding the case and stated it had little doubt that the actions resulting in her being paid for a day she did not work were “inadvertent, unintentional, and a mistake.” The court went on to state that the employer had not met its burden to prove just cause.
Of course, the court finding that the employee should not have been terminated for cause does not mean that she is entitled to get her job back. Instead, the court looked to determine how much notice she was e titled to.
After looking at how long she worked with the employer, her skills and experience, and her efforts to find a new job, the court determined she was entitled to seven months’ notice, or in this case, seven months of salary.
HMC Lawyers advises both employers and employees about the legal implications of wrongful and constructive dismissal and represents parties in negotiations, legal claims, and litigation arising from dismissal. To make an appointment and get advice about an employment matter, including wrongful or constructive dismissal claims, call 1-800-480-3534 or contact us online. Our lawyers represent clients in Calgary, throughout Alberta, and across Western Canada.