A BC employer has successfully defended a claim for constructive
dismissal despite taking away supervisory duties and moving the
employee from an office to a cubicle. The
Meyers v. Chevron Canada Limited case is a welcome change
from earlier cases we have discussed
here (changing a bonus) and
here (abusive workplace environment).
Meyers worked for Chevron in a number of positions since 1994.
Some of the job changes were considered promotions while others
were lateral moves, but he agreed to all of them. The last move was
to a Business Analyst position when his former department was
eliminated. He no longer supervised other employees and was not
responsible for an operational budget. He took it as a
demotion, resigned, and sued for constructive dismissal.
The Court decided there was not a "dramatic qualitative
change" in duties such that it could be considered a
fundamental breach of the employment contract, noting that he
retained significant leadership responsibilities as a project
manager and responsibility for the projects budget. The Court also
noted it may have been subjectively demeaning for Mr. Meyers to be
moved from an office into a cubicle, but it was not objectively
humiliating and degrading conduct.
The Court noted that an employer "requires some latitude to
structure the affairs of its operation" and held that the
parties had not intended the plaintiff's management
responsibilities to be rigidly defined. Mr. Meyers was
"hasty" to resign before seeing whether the new position
was an effective demotion.
Employers always have to be careful about making unilateral
changes to terms of employment. But this decision suggests
that courts will take a close look at the actual job duties and the
objective reality, not just the subjective perception, of the
changes. We can also hope that the courts will be reluctant
to interfere with legitimate reorganizations of a company's
operations and only act on changes which truly go to the root of
the employment contract.
Labour and employment law had some interesting developments in 2016. What follows are a few highlights from the last year and an introduction to an issue that may attract significant attention in 2017.
Businesses and employers face exposure to a variety of claims for mismanagement or misuse of personal information by employees. Damages may depend on how sensitive the information is and how it is misused.
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