The British Columbia Supreme Court's decision of Meyers
v. Chevron Canada Limited, 2013 BCSC 420, demonstrates the
uncertainty that can arise when predicting whether the conduct of
an employer amounts to constructive dismissal of an employee.
This recent decision suggests that the demotion of an employee does
not necessarily lead to a finding of constructive dismissal.
The Meyers Decision
The case involved Mr. Meyers, who had been employed by Chevron
Canada Limited ("Chevron") for approximately 15 years
when he was offered a new position as part of the company's
reorganization. Prior to the reorganization, Mr. Meyers held
the position of Applications Development Team Lead within the
information technology (IT) department. In this role, Mr.
Meyers had up to five employees and three contractors reporting to
Chevron offered Mr. Meyers a new job in the IT department as a
Business Analyst. This position offered the same salary,
benefit package, and reward programs as Mr. Meyers' previous
position. However, Mr. Meyers would no longer have employees
reporting to him and he would no longer be responsible for their
performance reviews. The people who had formerly reported to
Mr. Meyers would now be his equals. His individual office
would be replaced with a cubicle.
Mr. Meyers took the position that he had been demoted, as the
Business Analyst position was essentially his former position, but
without the supervisory responsibilities. He declined to
accept the new position and brought an action alleging constructive
Constructive dismissal is established if an employer makes
fundamental and unilateral
changes to a contract of employment which are not specifically
permitted by the contract. That is, the Court must consider
whether there has been a breach of an express or implied term, and
if there has been a breach, whether it is fundamental to the
contract such that the contract has been repudiated.
The Court acknowledged that there was some diminishment in Mr.
Meyers's responsibilities. However, Mr. Meyers's
employment contract did not have an implied term which precluded
Chevron from altering the scope of Mr. Meyers's management
responsibilities. Mr. Meyers had changed his job with Chevron
a number of times. His role was not rigidly defined and the
supervisory nature of his role had diminished over time. Even
if such an implied term existed, its breach would not be
fundamental to the employment contract. The new position
offered to Mr. Meyers was not a "dramatic qualitative
change" in his duties, and in fact many of his duties remained
The court ruled that the new position constituted a lateral move
and thus dismissed Mr. Meyers's claim for constructive
Implications for Employees and Employers
While every constructive dismissal case is driven by its unique
facts, the decision of Meyers v. Chevron Canada Limited is
of interest to both employees and employers. It demonstrates
that it is not always obvious when employer conduct will constitute
constructive dismissal. Employees should be cautious before
taking the position that they have been constructively dismissed,
even if their new position is perceived as a demotion. As for
employers, greater latitude may be available when restructuring the
affairs of their operation. It appears to be permissible to
reduce an employee's level of responsibility, to some degree,
so long as the remuneration remains the same and the employee's
duties have not fundamentally changed.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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