In a recent decision, Steel v. Coast Capital Savings Credit
Union, 2015 BCCA 127, the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld the
termination of a long service employee who was terminated for a
At the time of her termination, Ms. Steel was a 21 year employee
of Coast Capital Savings Credit Union ("Coast Capital"),
working as part of the IT Helpdesk team. Steel's position
provided her with unfettered access to every document in Coast
Capital's database, which included access to the personal
electronic folders of other employees on Coast Capital's
network. These personal electronic folders contained both
confidential personal information and business-related
Employees, including Steel, were forbidden by Coast
employee's personal folder without that employee's consent.
Coast Capital had a detailed protocol in place that was to be
followed in the event that Helpdesk employees were required to
access another employee's personal electronic folder.
When Steel became curious about the assignment of highly sought
after parking spaces, she accessed a document in her manager's
personal folder that contained a parking priority list. Steel's
actions came to light after her manager attempted to access the
parking document and learned it was being remotely viewed by Steel.
Steel acknowledged that she opened the document without permission
and Coast Capital dismissed her for cause. Steel sued, alleging
that she had been wrongfully dismissed.
Trial Court Decision
The trial judge dismissed the case. Applying the Supreme Court
of Canada's (SCC) decision in McKinley v. BC Tel, 2001
SCC 38 (McKinley), the court found that Steel's
actions amounted to just cause. The trial judge emphasised the
importance of trust in the banking industry and noted that
Steel's conduct violated this trust in two ways. First, she
opened a confidential document in another employee's file for
her own purposes, not as part of her duties and not at anyone's
request. Second, she violated the protocols that governed
situations in which remote access of such documents was undertaken.
Court of Appeal Decision
The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal.
The Court began its analysis by reviewing the trial court's
application of the SCC's decision in McKinley. The
Court noted that accessing confidential documents in accordance
obligation of a Helpdesk employee. The Court agreed with the trial
judge that this fundamental obligation placed Steel in a position
of substantial trust and made the continuing existence of that
trust fundamental to the viability of the employment relationship.
It was open to the trial judge, based on the fundamental nature of
this obligation, to find that the misconduct had resulted in a
fundamental breakdown of the employment relationship.
Takeaways for Employers
This is the second decision this year in which the Court of
Appeal has upheld the termination of a long-term employee for a
single act of misconduct (see Roe v. British Columbia Ferry
Services Ltd., 2015 BCCA 1).
This decision is encouraging for employers who are faced with an
employee who has engaged in actions that undermine the trust
necessary for a working employment relationship. Such actions could
include the violation of an important employment policy,
particularly where the employee is in a position of trust.
While the Court of Appeal did not address the level of trust
required of employees in the banking industry, it also did not
overturn the trial judge's broad application of this principle.
Thus, the question regarding extent of this obligation in this
industry remains open.
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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