A recent decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the
Ontario Superior Court's decision in Hoang v. Mann Engineering, wherein
the Court held that an employer may dismiss an insubordinate and
poorly-performing employee for just cause.
The employee, Mr. Hoang, had been hired as the Chief Financial
Officer of Mann Engineering a small engineering firm, which
specialized in renewable energy. He was employed pursuant to a
thirteen-month fixed-term employment contract. Almost immediately
after Mr. Hoang began in his position, significant performance
issues arose, including: neglect of duties, refusal to follow
instructions, insubordination, and abusive behaviour towards his
co-workers and superiors. After failed attempts by the
employer's President, Mr. Mann, to mentor and coach Mr. Hoang,
the employer terminated him for just cause after just eight months.
Mr. Hoang alleged wrongful dismissal.
The employer had hired Mr. Hoang to assist in a portfolio
project for which he was responsible for raising capital. Despite
specific directions provided by Mr. Mann, Mr. Hoang failed to meet
deadlines, neglected to pursue financing opportunities, and failed
to reach agreements with clients, causing significant losses to the
One of Mr. Hoang's significant issues was his
"unprofessional, uncollegial, insolent" behaviour towards
his co-workers and superiors throughout his tenure. Among other
incidents, Mr. Hoang wrote in an email to the Vice-President that
her actions were "idiotic", yelled and swore at a
co-worker, and repeatedly called the employer
"dysfunctional". When Mr. Hoang was required by Mr. Mann
to apologize for his behaviour, he refused and continued to justify
his actions. Consequently, the employer concluded that the
employment relationship had suffered irreparable harm and decided
to terminate Mr. Hoang for cause.
In determining that Mr. Hoang's conduct constituted just
cause for his dismissal, the Court considered whether there was
"wilful disobedience". The factors considered by the
Court included: whether the employee refused lawful orders of the
employer intentionally or deliberately, and whether such conduct
repudiated the employment contract or its essential terms. The
Court found that Mr. Hoang's failure to complete tasks, proceed
with projects as directed, and follow reasonable instructions of
the employer on multiple occasions, amounted to
The Court was also satisfied that the evidence from other
employees who testified on behalf the employer was preferable to
the evidence of Mr. Hoang, which it found to be self-serving and
blatantly dishonest. The Court took note of the fact that Mr.
Hoang, in his testimony and in cross-examination, refused to
acknowledge or understand that his conduct and behaviour in the
workplace was inappropriate and unprofessional. Specifically, the
Court found Mr. Hoang's email correspondence to his co-workers
and superiors were "condescending, disrespectful, arrogant ...
and haughty" and displayed an "attitude of
superiority" throughout his employment. The Court found such
conduct to be completely unacceptable in any professional
Dealing with insubordinate employees poses unique challenges for
employers because insubordination or poor performance alone may not
be sufficient to justify termination for cause. Accordingly,
employers are often in the position of having to terminate
insubordinate employees without cause (and paying them accordingly)
or managing the behaviour. This decision demonstrates that certain
factors, such as an accumulation of instances of insubordination,
genuine attempts by the employer to mentor and improve the
employee's performance and conduct, and the employee's
refusal to acknowledge and apologize for his or her unprofessional
behaviour may be considered by the Courts to find termination for
cause. Key for employers is to maintain a record of instances of
insubordination and any attempt by the employer to correct such
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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