Sometimes, rather than receiving a severance package, employees are provided “working notice” that their employment is coming to an end. In other words, your termination date is set to a fixed date in the future and you are expected to work throughout this period.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with providing working notice, there are some circumstances where a court may find the employer should not get credit for this notice period, and therefore should provide pay in lieu of notice instead. The Ontario Court of Appeal has recently decided that there is a qualitative component to reasonable notice. In other words, that the quality of the reasonable notice is important in addition to the quantity of notice an employee receives.
Wood v CTS of Canada Co.
On April 17, 2014, CTS of Canada Co. (“CTS”) gave written notice to employees that it was closing its Streetsville plant and that their employment would terminate on March 27, 2015. It subsequently extended the termination date for most employees to June 26, 2015. A class action was brought on behalf of 74 former employees against CTS of Canada Company. On issue was the adequacy of the notice of termination given by CTS.
The motion judge concluded that CTS was not entitled to credit for working notice for any week in which an employee worked overtime contrary to the ESA, or in which the employee was forced to work overtime that had a significant adverse effect on the employee’s ability to look for new employment.
The motion judge noted that according to the Employment Standards Act, no employer shall require or permit an employee to work more than 48 hours in a work week (unless the employee has agreed in writing and the employer has obtained the approval of the Director of Employment Standards). There was evidence that a group of hourly paid production employees worked approximately 55 hours a week during the notice period, contrary to the Employment Standards Act. The evidence also showed that the employees were not pressured to work and actually wanted to make more money. However, there was also evidence that 18 key employees were forced to work up to 60 hours per week.
The motion judge found that an employer that had employees work 16 hours a day during their notice period could not claim credit for working notice. To do so would be tantamount to saying “You had 8 hours a day to look for new employment and if you frittered it away sleeping, that was your choice.”
CTS had the onus to prove that it provided reasonable advance notice of termination. The motion judge concluded that there is both a quantitative and a qualitative component as to what is reasonable. If the primary objective of reasonable notice is to provide the dismissed employee with an opportunity to obtain alternate employment, to look for work, an employee needs both a reasonable aggregate notice period and a reasonable amount of time in the week.
On appeal, the employer argued that the “quality of the opportunity” is not a relevant factor in the determination of reasonable notice. The Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the motion judge’s determination that credit for working notice is dependent on the quality of the opportunity given to the employee to find new employment. The appellate court noted that the mere fact that the employee is required to work during the notice period does not automatically lead to denying the employer credit for a portion of the working notice period. Although an employee provided working notice period may have less time to look for alternate work, in some circumstances the fact that an employee is employed while job searching can improve the employee’s position when approaching prospective employers.
However, exceptional workplace demands on the employee during the notice period that negatively affect the employee’s ability to seek alternate work may warrant disentitling an employer from credit for some or all of the working notice period provided.
Takeaway for Employees
If you have been terminated and provided working notice and you are not sure whether what is being required of you during the notice period is fair, you should speak to a lawyer. Even if you are not being forced to work overtime, similar considerations with respect to quality could apply if you are not provided with time to attend job interviews. We can be contacted at [email protected] or 647-204-8107.