“Just cause” is a legal term that means a non-union employer is justified in terminating an employee without any notice of termination at common law.
The courts decide whether or not just cause exists, unless the employee has agreed that certain misconduct constitutes just cause in an employment contract.
The onus is on an employer to prove it had just cause in terminating the employee.
What must an employer prove?
When deciding whether just cause exists, the Ontario Court of Appeal has stated:
“… the core question for determination is whether an employee has engaged in misconduct that is incompatible with the fundamental terms of the employment relationship. The rationale for the standard is that the sanction imposed for misconduct is to be proportional – dismissal is warranted when the misconduct is sufficiently serious that it strikes at the heart of the? employment relationship.”
Here are three examples where an employer has proven just cause:
1. Driving an employer’s vehicle while drunk. After 32 years of service, an employee was returning to the workplace from a customer visit. While driving, the employee was responsible for a serious accident which destroyed the vehicle and left him with life threatening injuries. Although finding just cause, the court stated, “Normally, a single and isolated incident will not be sufficient cause to dismiss a long service employee, particularly one with a clean disciplinary and performance record.” And, “Intoxication at work does not automatically justify termination.”
2. Falsifying and submitting medical benefits claims forms, lying to the employer’s group insurer, and failing to forthrightly admit this misconduct when asked during an employer investigation. At the time of her termination, this first-level manager had been employed with the employer for 19 years.
3. Engaging in personal and sexual harassment of a co-worker. The employee, a lawyer with 13 years service and no prior discipline, persisted in pushing a romantic relationship with a female co-worker after she repeatedly told him that she was not interested. Harassment included the employee communicating with the co-worker’s colleagues and superiors and his attempt to have her employment terminated.