Generally speaking, an employer may terminate an employee as long as it provides the employee with notice of termination. However, if an employer has ‘just cause’ for the termination, the employer does not need to provide any notice. One of the grounds employers try to rely on to prove just cause for dismissal is the breach of a company rule or policy. In a recent case, the employer tried to argue that the employee’s failure to comply with the employer’s sick leave policy by failing to provide a doctor’s note constituted just cause for dismissal.
Sinnathamby v The Chesterfield Shop Limited
Ms. Sinnathamby, a 14-year employee, called in sick one morning in September 2010. Despite three requests from the employer for a doctor’s note, Ms. Sinnathamby did not send any medical notes until after she was terminated a month after she went on her sick leave. The employer argued that she was terminated because of her failure to provide medical notes to support her absence from work, as was required by an employer policy. The judge found that Ms. Sinnathamby was warned that if she did not provide a doctor’s note or return to work she would be fired.
The judge found that it was reasonable, and within an employer’s right, to request a doctor’s note. However, there was no evidence as to why the medical note was required before October 4, 2010 (the day she was terminated), or the consequences to this employer of receiving the note after that date.
The judge also found that there were clearly alternatives to dismissal in these circumstances. Therefore, dismissing Ms. Sinnathamby for her failure to provide a doctor’s note was a disproportionate response, particularly given her long service.
Therefore, although Ms. Sinnathamby’s behaviour was inappropriate, her immediate termination was disproportionate to her misconduct, i.e. breaching company policy. Therefore, Ms. Sinnathamby was owed reasonable notice of her termination.
Lessons to be Learned
An employer cannot simply claim it has just cause to terminate an employee. It is the employer that has the burden of proving just cause. In deciding whether just cause existed, judges will look at a variety of factors and take a proportional approach. If you have recently been terminated for cause, you should speak to an employment lawyer. If you would like to speak to a lawyer at MacLeod Law Firm, you can reach us at [email protected] or 647-204-8107.
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