Employers often get tired of their lawyers emphasizing the importance of process in employee termination cases, but they do it for good reason.
In Czerniawski v Corma, a case decided by the Superior Court of Justice this year, the court dealt with a wrongful dismissal case regarding a 54-year-old assembler with 19 years of service (the plaintiff) being terminated for just cause.
The incident involved the plaintiff getting into a shouting match with a co-worker over a work-related issue. The plaintiff refused to leave the premises when directed to do so by the employer. He did, however, comply when the police arrived at the workplace.
The plaintiff asked what he was being accused of, but was only told that the company was going to investigate. He was fired five days later for cause, for engaging in threatening behaviour and insubordination for refusing to go home when ordered.
The company’s investigation consisted of securing statements from other workers and supervisors. The company did not interview the plaintiff and did not give him a chance to tell his side of the story, which was that he never engaged in threatening behaviour towards anyone.
The judge conducting the trial commented on this as follows:
Had the plaintiff been allowed to respond to the allegations as he requested on March 7, 2019 or as part of the investigation, the employer’s decision may have been more proportional to the misconduct which occurred.
She went on to indicate that progressive discipline for the incident such as a disciplinary letter or suspension would have sent the message to the plaintiff that his behaviour was unacceptable and would have given him a warning that any continuation of this behaviour could result in his dismissal.
She also referred to a 2004 case in which the court stated that:
A number of cases have held that it was wrong for an employer to refrain from interviewing the plaintiff to obtain his version of events.
Facts that were clearly in the plaintiff’s favour were his lengthy service and discipline free record. Ultimately, the court decided that the plaintiff’s misconduct did not justify dismissal without notice, and he was awarded 19 months’ severance.
So, when your lawyer urges you to put your employee through a process, including giving that employee an opportunity to respond to the allegations against them, your lawyer is simply doing what they should be doing – acting in your best interest.
For any support in employment-related matters, please do not hesitate to reach out to our team.