Most employment lawyers would agree that proving just cause for
a single, isolated incident for a long-service employee is an
uphill battle that is not worth the fight. That being said,
there are times when the courts will occasionally uphold a
termination for cause on the basis of a single event where the
nature of the offence is egregious in nature, and seriously
undermines the employment relationship. In a recent Ontario
Court of Appeal decision, the court upheld a decision of the trial
judge which found that cause existed when an employee was
terminated after driving his employer's vehicle while
In Dziecielski v. Lighting Dimensions
Inc., 2012 ONSC 1877, an employee with 23 years of service
drove his employer's vehicle, without authorization, while
intoxicated. While driving, the employee was responsible for
a serious accident which destroyed the company vehicle and left him
with life threatening injuries. Prior to this incident, the
employee had no history of misconduct or performance issues.
As part of the terms of his employment, the employee signed an
Employee Handbook which indicated that consumption of alcohol off
of the premises while conducting business is prohibited and could
result in termination. This offence was also categorized as a
"major" breach under the terms of the Handbook.
Further, as part of his job duties, the employee was obliged to
drive his own vehicle.
As a result of a breach of the Handbook and his conduct,
the employee was fired for cause. He was also charged with a
number of criminal offences related to drunk driving under the
Criminal Code. Following his termination, the
employee filed a wrongful dismissal suit seeking damages for
reasonable notice, punitive and aggravated
Although the trial judge acknowledged that proving just cause
for a single, isolated event is an uphill battle, particularly
where the employee has a blemish-free record, he nonetheless
concluded the following:
Drunk driving is considered at large to be a serious criminal
office, and in this case, the employee's misconduct was made
worse by the fact that he was not just intoxicated while working,
but rather drunk on a public highway with the employer's
The employee must have known that drinking four beers while
operating the employer's vehicle is serious misconduct;
The employee's conduct was prejudicial to the
employer's business, and may have been at risk of being found
vicariously liable to third parties, and at risk for WSIB claims
and premium consequences.
On appeal to the Ontario Court of Appeal, the court found that
even though the employee had an unblemished employment record, the
trial judge made no error when it determined that just cause
existed when the employee drove the company vehicle while
What can employers take away from this decision? It appears that
the court is signalling a more stringent approach towards driving
while intoxicated in the workplace. While this is promising for
employers, it is important to note that each case is decided on an
individualized basis, and employers should ensure that they have
conducted a thorough investigation when asserting just cause for
termination. The lawyers at CCP can help employers navigate the
very difficult issue of just cause terminations in both the union
and non-union settings.
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.
To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.
Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.
Unfortunately, reasonable accommodation for employees in the workplace continues to be the source of significant litigation and even today we continue to see outrageous examples of employers behaving badly.
We are now beginning to see reported cases involving charges and subsequent fines laid against employers for failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to protect a worker from workplace violence.
On October 13, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada denied leave to appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal decision which ordered an employer to pay a former employee 37 months of salary and benefits following termination.
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).