Employment

What is Wrongful Dismissal?

Wrongful Dismissal

What is Wrongful Dismissal?

If you’ve been terminated by your employer, or just want a clear understanding of your rights when it comes to wrongful dismissal law in BC, you’ve come to the right place.

We always encourage employees to seek advice from an experienced legal team that specializes in employment law; however, we also like to educate our clients so they become more familiar with key terms to gain a broad understanding of laws surrounding wrongful dismissal claims.

 

What is Wrongful Dismissal?

A wrongful dismissal occurs when an employee is terminated by their employer without being provided any reasonable notice.

Generally, there are 3 types of wrongful dismissal scenarios:

  • An employer terminates employment without cause and refuses to pay adequate compensation.
  • An employer terminates an employee for cause and fails to pay compensation.
  • An employer alters terms and conditions of employment and ‘constructively dismisses’ an employee by creating a hostile, toxic and intolerable work environment — resulting in the employee being forced to resign from their position.

If you are an employee in BC, your rights are protected by both the Employment Standards Act of British Columbia and federal law — however, it is important to note that a wrongful dismissal claim does not occur simply because an employer has terminated an employee for an illegitimate reason. For example, an employer may have terminated an employee for financial reasons, when in fact there is no basis for doing so.

An employer does not legally have to be completely honest with their reasons for termination, as long as they have just cause to terminate or provide reasonable notice of termination or salary in lieu of notice.

The notice period an employee is entitled to will vary depending on these factors:

  • Length of employment
  • Age of the employee
  • Type of position (including salary)
  • Availability of similar employment in the job market at the time of termination

 

What is ‘Just Cause?’

Under Canadian law, an employer can legally apply just cause termination in the event of serious employee misconduct such as theft, sexual harassment, dishonesty, conflict of interest, incompetence, insubordination, and other types of highly inappropriate conduct during employment. Some “just cause” actions are easier for an employer to prove than others.

Under these circumstances, an employer can terminate an employee immediately without any requirement to provide:

  • Warnings
  • Reasonable notice
  • Severance pay
  • Pay in lieu of notice

 

Proving Wrongful Dismissal

The first thing you will want to do is prove that you were an employee of the company.

Generally, this can be done by providing:

  • Your letter of termination
  • Your Record of Employment (ROE)
  • Pay stubs
  • Proof that you were terminated without adequate notice.

Moving forward, your employer must prove that you were dismissed for ‘just cause.’

 

Do Not Sign a Severance Offer

When you are terminated, your employer may offer you an exit agreement and or offer you a severance package to sign off on, with a short deadline. If you feel you have been wrongly dismissed, do not sign a severance offer before speaking to an employment lawyer. Your employer cannot legally impose a deadline on your full severance entitlements.

Legally you have 2 years following termination to receive your severance pay — if you sign off on a severance package from your employer, you have also signed away your right to pursue legal action for severance pay under common law.

 

Timeline for Filing a Wrongful Dismissal Case in B.C.

To file a claim under the B.C. Employment Standards Act, you have 6 months from the termination date. To sue your employer, you have 2 years from the date you were let go. This goes for employees who work full-time, part-time, or an employee on probation

 

Contact A Trusted Employment Lawyer

If you feel you may have been wrongfully dismissed, it is important to obtain legal advice as early as possible. If you or someone you know has experienced a wrongful dismissal, Tim Louis Law is here to help. We are on your side and will fight hard to ensure that our clients receive full compensation. For more information or to set up a free consultation with Tim Louis & his compassionate, trusted team of experts, call 604-732-7678 or email timlouis@timlouislaw.com

Source: https://www.bclaws.gov.bc.ca/civix/document/id/complete/statreg/00_96113_01

Disability Insurance: Expansion of Special Costs

Disability Insurance: Expansion of Special Costs

disability insurance
 

Introduction

A recent BC Court of Appeal case, Tanious v. The Empire Life Insurance Company, 2019 BCCA 329 [Tanious], gives disability insurance claimants who take their insurers to court greater prospects of obtaining special costs against their insurer, even absent malicious conduct. However, the specific details of the case are very important. This article analyses Tanious with a view to determining the key requirements that will need to be met in future cases to obtain awards of special costs. Leave to appeal Tanious to the Supreme Court of Canada was denied.

Background

Ms. Tanious was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis shortly before beginning a new job. She nonetheless worked at that job for seven years before ceasing work and claiming disability benefits that she was entitled to through her employment. Following her diagnosis, she developed depression and anxiety, and about a year before ceasing work she started using illicit methamphetamines to cope with her deteriorating cognitive capabilities. The insurer, Empire Life, denied that she became disabled during her employment, and further argued that her substance use disentitled her to benefits. At trial, Mr. Justice N. Brown found that she was entitled to disability benefits, and further awarded her $15,000 for aggravated damages for mental distress, loss of peace of mind and of dignity as a person from Empire Life’s refusal to pay benefits.

At the subsequent costs hearing, Brown J. awarded special costs even though the plaintiff conceded that Empire Life did not commit any litigation misconduct. It is this award that was subject to appeal.

The Appeal of Special Costs

The costs scheme in British Columbia is statutory; Rule 14-1 of the Supreme Court Civil Rules sets out the framework for cost awards. It provides that the court may award special costs, but does not set out the circumstances in which they may be awarded. Generally, special costs are only awarded in cases where there has been litigation misconduct. However, there are exceptions, though these are rarely applied. The Tanious case is an example of one such exception.

Overarching Principles

In order to justify a special costs award, the Court of Appeal stated that it is insufficient to simply have a large discrepancy between taxable costs and actual legal costs. There must be some other “unusual feature” in the case, such as “special importance, difficulty or complexity associated with the litigation” (para. 54). The Court cited a handful of examples where special costs had been awarded despite the lack of evidence of misconduct, and explicitly reiterated that in these cases any award of special costs must be made on a principled basis.

Typically, the objectives of costs awards are to provide the winning party with some degree of indemnity for the costs it has incurred during the litigation. However, the Court of Appeal also recognized that costs awards “encourage settlement, deter frivolous actions or defences and sanction unreasonable conduct committed in the course of litigation” (para. 36). Significantly, the Court also indicated that in some instances, “costs may be awarded to enhance access to justice, mitigate severe inequality between litigants and encourage socially desirable conduct” (para. 36).

The Court cited the leading case of Asselstine v. Manufacturers Life Insurance Co., 2005 BCCA 465, which provides that in the context of these objectives, “the application of ordinary costs rules usually produces a just result,” but goes on to say that this does not mean “that the personal and financial circumstances of a litigant can never be relevant on a costs application” (para. 60). The Court acknowledged that such circumstances may come in to play in exceptional cases.

The Court went on to discuss other cases where special costs were “justified in the interests of justice” (para. 65). Given the circular nature of this proposal – that special costs awards are justified by justice – it is challenging to elucidate principled reasons for these awards when they are not related to reprehensible conduct. Instead, these cases are fact-specific and must be considered based on their own merits.

The Court included in its analysis two analogous cases out of the Court of Queen’s Bench in Alberta where special costs were awarded: Hennessy v. Horse Racing Alberta, 2007 ABQB 178, where a judicial review was required to defend the appellant’s livelihood and restore his reputation; and Meleshko v. Alberta, 2013 ABQB 468, where the appellant sought judicial review to reinstate long-term disability benefits, and punitive damages were not available. As well, the Court cited FIC Real Estate Fund Ltd. v. Phoenix Land Ventures Ltd., 2016 ABCA 303 for the proposition that special costs could be awarded if success in the litigation would otherwise “amount to a strictly pyrrhic victory” (para. 65).

The final significant case referenced in the appeal was Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 5, wherein the test for awarding special costs was refined by the Supreme Court of Canada, stating that “the plaintiffs must show that it would not have been possible to pursue the litigation with private funding” (para. 63). In these instances, it is not just to ask the individual litigants or their counsel to bear the cost of pursuing the claim.

Factors in Tanious in support of special costs

On its face, the trial judge in Tanious made the decision to award special costs on the basis of very few factors, none of which are unusual in a long term disability insurance case: the purpose of the insurance contract is to provide subsistence level income, and when the insurer failed to pay these benefits, the plaintiff had to bring a lawsuit, which cost money. However, the Court of Appeal recognized that when the trial judge’s reasons were read as a whole, it was apparent that he also considered “the nature of the case, including its unique characteristics and related litigation challenges, complexities and costs, together with Ms. Tanious’ personal and financial circumstances and her need for counsel as established by the evidence” (para. 21).

The particular litigation challenges of this case included several factors that added to the effort required by counsel. Ms. Tanious was a difficult client to represent. She could not meet at counsel’s office; counsel had to drive to her. Similarly, she could not review documents to prepare for an examination for discovery as it was too stressful, and she likely would not be able to remember what she had reviewed. Additionally, she attended hospital 33 times over the course of the case, and often called her counsel from hospital to ask for help with various other issues. Ms. Tanious attempted suicide more than once as her disease progressed; if she had died, her claim for benefits would have ended. In preparing for this case, it was difficult for counsel to predict what Ms. Tanious would say at trial.

Though the insurer did not commit misconduct, it could have acted better. The trial judge noted that the insurer made only a cursory response to Ms. Tanious’ initial application for disability benefits, but once in litigation, mounted a vigorous defence. In combination with Ms. Tanious’ poor mental health and declining cognitive abilities, the actions taken by the insurer necessitated that she obtain legal representation in order to pursue the benefits to which she was entitled.

Notably, Ms. Tanious had separate counsel for the costs hearing. This was perhaps because her original counsel had to testify at the hearing via affidavit as to the many special circumstances in Ms. Tanious’ case; s. 5.2-1 of the Code of Professional Conduct precludes counsel from testifying to controversial matters. Though it was not mentioned by the Court, as a practical matter, this ethical rule adds to the challenges of obtaining special costs.

Future Implications

The courts now recognize that in matters of insurance disputes and also in other exceptional situations, many people do not have access to justice unless they are able to retain counsel. Access to justice is recognized as being one of the policy objectives of the courts that thus far is not adequately being met (para. 81). As the consequences of these shortcomings become clearer, it may be possible to seek special costs as a means of ensuring adequate access to justice for members of otherwise underrepresented and vulnerable populations.

It can be difficult to make a financially viable practice taking long term disability cases to trial. While aggravated damages are sometimes awarded, they are typically small awards that are woefully insufficient in comparison to the costs of litigation. Punitive damages require misconduct on the part of the insurer. The risk of a special cost award, absent litigation misconduct, provides the plaintiff with more leverage in negotiations with an insurer, and may allow a plaintiff to recuperate the full benefits to which they are entitled, while also appropriately compensating their counsel.

Terminated Without Cause?

Wrongful Dismissal

What Are You Entitled To If You Are Terminated Without Cause?

When an employee is terminated without cause, it means they are dismissed for reasons other than workplace misconduct or breach of contract, which would, in that case, be defined as ‘termination with just cause.’

Oftentimes termination without cause occurs during times of economic downturn or when a company is trying to cut costs or chooses to engage in restructuring or realignment. As long as the reason for the termination or lay-off is not discriminatory, such actions are completely legal.

If your employer follows the employment law, and manages the termination correctly, including giving you reasonable notice of termination, meaning notice or pay in lieu of notice, you will have sufficient time to seek other means of employment or at least be compensated financially for your loss of work.

If the employer does not follow the correct legal procedures, a wrongful dismissal case may result, which means it would be time for you to seek the services of an employment lawyer to make a claim for compensation.

How much payment are you due under statute law when terminated without cause?

Payment due is dependent on the duration of your employment at the company. Nevertheless, the following minimum statutory requirements apply:

  • After three consecutive months of employment: one week’s pay must be provided
  • After 12 consecutive months of employment: two weeks’ pay must be provided
  • After 36 consecutive months of employment: three weeks’ pay must be provided
  • For each additional year: a week’s pay (up to a maximum of eight weeks) must be provided

How much payment is your due under common law if you are terminated without cause?

At common law, you are entitled to substantially more than under statute law. Each case is different depending on age and skill set. Generally speaking, you are entitled to between 4-6 weeks of severance pay per year of employment. However, your employer can deduct from this amount any income you earn during this period of time. Even if you earn no money during this time, the court will make a deduction if you failed to make reasonable efforts to look for employment.

When is a payment not required when terminated without cause?

Pay is not required when terminated without cause if reasonable notice is provided. Under common law, reasonable notice is based on length of service, the age of the employee, type of position and the availability of similar employment at the time of termination.

Under these guidelines, the reasonable notice might amount to at least one month per year of service. This may also be specified in your original employment contract. However, even though your contract may require less notice of termination than common law requirements, it cannot be less than the entitlements listed under the BC Employment Standards Act.

As long as these requirements are met, no payment is necessary in termination without cause cases.

Pay or notice is not required in the following circumstances:

  • You resign or retire
  • Your contract ended
  • You have worked at the company for less than three consecutive months
  • You worked on-call (freelanced), were hired to perform specific work in 12 months or less, or were hired temporarily
  • An unexpected event makes it impossible for the planned duties to be carried out
  • You refuse to accept reasonable alternative employment
  • You are terminated for just cause

The reasonable notice and compensation laws governing termination are clear. All employers and even employees should understand them; otherwise, the laws might be breached, and unfair dismissal cases result, which calls for court action.

Filing a wrongful dismissal claim in Vancouver

If you were terminated without proper notice or pay and wish to file a wrongful dismissal claim, contact us at Tim Louis and Company. Our experienced Vancouver employment lawyer will evaluate your case and guide you through the process.

 

How to Prove Constructive Dismissal in a Case

In employment law, constructive dismissal takes place when an employee resigns due to unwanted changes to fundamental terms of their employment contract, or due to the employer creating a hostile work environment.

Despite no actual firing taking place, the conduct of the employer would have to be of such a scale and scope that the employee is at liberty to regard himself or herself as having been dismissed. In other words, since the resignation was not truly voluntary, effectively, it is considered a dismissal.

Constructive dismissal is, however, often harder to prove than many employees tend to think. The responsibility of proving constructive dismissal rests solely on the employee, who must first provide the requisite evidence to prove that a fundamental breach of contract was committed by the employer, whilst the employer’s only requirement would be to prove that the resignation was not forced.

What qualifies as constructive dismissal?

Among the circumstances which may constitute a breach of contract and enable an employee to leave and claim constructive dismissal are:

  • Unfair and unfounded allegations of poor performance
  • Unexpected reductions in wages/salaries, or not being paid when expected, without reasonable explanation or notice
  • A sudden demotion without reason
  • Unreasonable disciplinary procedures
  • Forcing staff to work in breach of health and safety laws
  • A complete change in tasks/duties without adequate notice or training

Once the employer breaches a fundamental term, under the law, he or she is in breach of the whole contract. The employee is entitled, therefore, to accept the repudiation, thus bringing the contract to an end and thereafter sue the employer for damages.

In order to change a contractual term, both employer and employee have to agree to the new terms, as new terms imposed without agreement and consideration may be unenforceable and may also destroy the entire contract.

There are two types of constructive dismissal. In the first, it must be determined that the employer has implicitly or explicitly breached a term of the employment agreement. Thereafter, it must be determined whether or not the breach was of a magnitude that substantially altered the employment relationship.

The second type of constructive dismissal occurs if the employer’s conduct has shown that he or she intends to no longer be bound by the employment agreement. In this case, there may be a series of smaller breaches of the employment contract by the employer or no actual breach. However, the court may examine the employer’s cumulative treatment of the employee to determine if it demonstrates an intention to no longer be bound by the contract.

In proving constructive dismissal, not only is time is of the essence, but the conduct of the employee after the unfair act takes place is also critical. Due to the fact that when an employer imposes new fundamental terms to which the employee does not agree, the employee can be considered constructively dismissed, the employee must withdraw quickly as continuing to work under the new terms may indicate the employee’s acceptance or condone of the change.

At that point, the law will prevent the employee from making any claim for constructive dismissal.

Do you need help proving constructive dismissal in Vancouver?

If you believe you were the victim of constructive dismissal and are searching for an employment lawyer in Vancouver, contact us at Tim Louis and Company.

Our Vancouver employment lawyer would be pleased to assist with your case on a contingency basis. Call us today to schedule a consultation.

Earning Tips and Fired From Your Job? The Law Is On Your Side

no-money-law

If you have recently been fired or terminated from your job and your boss had no valid reason for doing so, that could fall under a wrongful dismissal, where you probably already know that your employer must pay you damages. This payment is in lieu of your employer giving you reasonable notice in cases of firing without just cause. As a general rule of thumb, the amount is equivalent to the salary or wages you would have received with termination with reasonable notice — anywhere between four weeks at the low end and six weeks at the high end for each year of employment.

Employers Are Liable For Tips and Gratuities

Where this can get complicated is if you were earning tips or gratuities in addition to your salary or wage while working somewhere like a bar or restaurant. If you’re like most people in such a line of work, you probably don’t declare all or most of your tips on your income tax return. The question is, in such a situation, is your employee liable to you not only for your base wages, but also for the tips you would have earned during the notice period? And, if your employer is liable for these tips, who calculates that amount — your employer or you?

The B.C. Supreme Court considered these questions, and the judgment is great news for people who earn part of their income from tips.

Sarah Chapple, a restaurant manager, took her employer, Umberto Management Inc., to court. In January 2007, she was dismissed after having worked for the defendant for more than 13 years.

The Umberto Management Inc. Case

The trial judge ruled that Umberto Management should have given Ms. Chapple 15 months’ notice, and therefore she was entitled to 15 months’ pay. As well, the trial judge went on to award her more than $70,000 for the tips she would have earned during the notice period, despite the fact she did not claim all of her gratuities on her income tax, nor did she or the defendant keep records of her tips.

restaurant-bar-law

The defendant appealed the trial judge’s decision. Firstly, Umberto Management alleged that they did have good reason to terminate her in the first place. Therefore, no notice was required. In the alternative, they argued that not only was 15 months’ notice excessive but the award of over $70,000 for tips was excessive, too.

The B.C. Court of Appeal rejected the defendant’s appeal on all grounds.

What does all this mean? If you have been recently terminated without cause by your employer and you earned tips or gratuities, the law is now firmly on your side.

BC Employment Law: Seek Advice From An Labour Lawyer If You Haven’t Been Paid By Your Employer

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If you have not been paid wages by your employer, you may be trying to decide whether to sue or, instead, to file a complaint with the Employment Standards Branch under the Employment Standards Act. Before you decide which route to take, you may wish to get advice from an employment or labor lawyer. This is especially important after a recent Small Claims Court decision.

The Small Claims Court recently considered the case of an employee who had not been paid wages by his employer. At Small Claims, this employee did not have a lawyer – he represented himself. I am disappointed to tell you that the employer succeeded in having the case dismissed.

The employer drew the Court’s attention to Section 82 of the Employment Standards Act. This section requires the employee to obtain the consent of the Director of Employment Standards to take the employer to Court if the dispute has already been ruled on by the Employment Standard’s Branch. In this case, the employee had already taken the dispute to the Employment Standards Branch. The employee was successful but could only get an order for six months worth of back wages because the Employment Standards Act limits claims for unpaid wages to a six-month maximum.

In this case, the employee was owed back wages beyond six months.

After his success at the Employment Standards Branch, the employee sued in Small Claims Court for the back wages not covered by the six month limit.

An Employment Judge in Vancouver, BCThe employee did not get permission from the Director of the Employment Standards Branch. The Small Claims Court Judges accepted the employer’s argument that the case must therefore be dismissed.

Hindsight is 20:20. but in this case, the employee would have been better off just suing in Small Claims Court for the entire claim of unpaid wages.

If you have not been paid by your employer, you may wish to consider seeking the advice of an employment/labor lawyer before deciding what to do. Call Vancouver wrongful dismissal lawyer Tim Louis today at (604) 732-7678.

BC Employment Law: Insubordination – Is it grounds for termination?

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BC Employment Law: Insubordination – Is it grounds for termination?

You have just been asked by your boss to carry out a new procedure he thinks will be much better than the current procedure. However, your boss does not have the hands-on experience you do and you know from past experience that every time he comes up with a new procedure he thinks will be much better, it turns out more often than not, his new procedure is not practical.

If you decide not to carry out your employer’s latest new idea, and you are fired, can you successfully sue for wrongful dismissal if you can demonstrate to the Court that your employer’s new idea was not going to work?

As an employment lawyer, I am frequently asked for advice from clients in situations similar to the above. These clients want to know if they will be able to successfully sue their employer for wrongful dismissal/wrongful termination if they are fired after refusing to carry out their employer’s directions.

An Employee that has been Terminated for InsubordinationSurprisingly, the law is not on the side of the employee in cases where an employer’s directive is intentionally disregarded – even if the employee had good reason to believe the directive was a poor management decision.

Our B.C. Court of Appeal recently heard an appeal of a Trial Judge’s decision. The Trial Judge had dismissed a wrongful dismissal/termination lawsuit brought on by a senior manager, against his employer, after he was fired.

The B.C. Court of Appeal, in dismissing the senior manager’s appeal, thoroughly reviewed the law and referred to many longstanding cases. In summary, the Court concluded that, unless the employer’s direction is illegal, dishonest or would risk the employee’s safety, the employee must follow the direction. To do otherwise gives the employer grounds to terminate the employee with cause. The result is that a lawsuit by the terminated employee will fail.

You might think you are making the right decision in not carrying out the employer’s instruction but unless you are being asked to do something illegal, dishonest or something that will put your safety at risk, you run the risk of losing your job and not being able to sue. If you are thinking of refusing to follow your employer’s instruction, make sure to speak with an employment or labor lawyer first.

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