Just cause terminations are considered the capital punishment of employment law by some judges. A just cause termination is the worst possible outcome for an employee because it not only means that you will not receive termination pay but generally you will also be prohibited from collecting employment insurance.
The courts and adjudicators have recognized the gravity of a just cause termination which is why there is an increasingly high legal threshold to meet even when an employee has a history of non-compliance with a company’s policies.
In a recent decision, an adjudicator ruled that Bell Canada did not have just cause to terminate a manager who repeatedly breached company policies because Bell failed to apply progressive disciplinary measures.
In Hussey v Bell Canada, the employee repeatedly breached company policy by failing to follow the rules around punctuality and scheduling. She regularly failed to punch in or out for more than a year but only received a single written warning. Further, despite the written warning she was promoted twice.
Eventually, one of her colleagues complained about her conduct including her repeated tardiness. Following the complaint Bell conducted an investigation and found other instances in which she had failed to comply with the attendance and scheduling policies. It subsequently terminated her with cause.
Since the employee was a federally regulated employee, she filed a complaint under the Canada Labour Code.
The Adjudicator determined that despite her repeated violations of company policy, Bell had an obligation to apply progressive disciplinary measures which it failed to do. It had known of her tendency to abuse the attendance and scheduling policies, but did not take any meaningful action to correct her conduct. Given that she was promoted twice after receiving the written warning, the Adjudicator agreed that it was reasonable for the employee to believe that her breaches of Bell’s attendance and scheduling policies were not that serious.
Lessons for Employees:
- Your employer should clearly identify misconduct, bring it to your attention, and give you an opportunity to correct the misconduct before terminating your employment for just cause.
- A disciplinary record is not always enough to justify a just cause termination because not all misconduct constitutes just cause.
- A just cause dismissal can have serious consequences for your future so it is important to consult a lawyer to learn about your legal rights.
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