Canada: Le Délai De Congé Avant La Résiliation Du Contrat De Travail : Une Avenue À Double Sens

Dans une décision récente, la Cour supérieure du Québec, sous la plume de l'honorable Danye Daigle, a condamné un salarié démissionnaire à verser à son ancien employeur la somme de 12 000$ en dommages et intérêts en raison de sa démission et de sa résiliation du contrat de travail sans avoir fourni à son employeur un délai de congé raisonnable (Pharmacie Jean-Sébastien Blais inc. c. Pharmacie Éric Bergeron et André Vincent inc.). 

Le contexte

Le salarié, Jacques Lacombe, est technicien en laboratoire pour les demandeurs, qui opèrent une pharmacie à Shawinigan. Il y travaille à temps partiel depuis 1970 et à temps plein depuis 1991, alors que la pharmacie est propriété de son père. Malgré la vente de l'entreprise familiale, il continue d'y travailler. Il connait bien l'entreprise et est très apprécié de la clientèle avec qui il a tissé des liens. Il bénéficie d'ailleurs de conditions de travail généreuses, supérieures à ce qui est offert aux techniciens en laboratoire sur le marché.

Au fil du temps, Lacombe se trouve en désaccord avec certaines décisions de son nouvel employeur. Les divergences culminent en août 2012, lorsqu'on lui retire l'autorisation de s'occuper des piluliers en raison de son refus de suivre la formation requise pour obtenir la certification exigée.

Lacombe décide d'offrir ses services à une pharmacie concurrente de la région. Les parties s'entendent et il donne sa démission à son employeur le jour même, sans l'informer de ses nouveaux projets.

S'en suit un véritable exode de clients qui décident de suivre Lacombe chez son nouvel employeur. Près de 280 clients y transfèrent leur dossier, d'où le recours de Pharmacie Jean-Sébastien Blais inc.

La décision

La juge Daigle commence par rappeler que, dans le cadre d'un contrat de travail à durée indéterminée, l'obligation de fournir à l'autre partie un délai de congé avant de mettre fin au contrat de travail s'applique tout autant à l'employé qui démissionne qu'à l'employeur qui met fin à l'emploi d'un employé. Dans le contexte d'une démission, le délai de congé a pour but de donner à l'employeur le temps de remplacer l'employé démissionnaire ou, à tout le moins, de s'adapter à son départ.

Elle relate ensuite les critères à prendre en compte lorsqu'il faut apprécier le caractère raisonnable du délai donné par l'employé démissionnaire. Un critère important selon la juge est le poste occupé par le salarié, ce qui comprend son salaire, son statut de « salarié-clé » ainsi que sa « durée de service ». Elle retient également parmi les éléments à considérer le fait que la prestation de travail soit tributaire de la personne du salarié, sa bonne ou sa mauvaise foi, ainsi que d'éventuels manquements à son devoir de loyauté.

Dans le cas d'espèce, la juge note que Lacombe était sans contredit un salarié-clé en raison de sa notoriété dans le milieu. Sa décision de démissionner du jour au lendemain démontre une absence de considération. De plus, il n'a pas agi de bonne foi puisqu'il a évité son ancien employeur lorsque celui-ci cherchait à obtenir des explications sur son départ et parce qu'il a menti sur ses projets futurs lorsqu'il a finalement arrêté de s'esquiver.

Dans ce contexte, la juge conclut que le départ précipité de Lacombe « a entraîné un bouleversement important chez les demandeurs » et les a empêchés de limiter les dommages suite à sa démission. Elle note d'ailleurs que le fait que le délai n'aurait rien changé à l'exode massif des clients n'est pas pertinent. Elle condamne donc le salarié à verser l'équivalent de deux mois de salaire en compensation pour le délai qu'il aurait dû donner à son employeur.  

La juge rejette cependant les prétentions des demandeurs voulant que Lacombe a manqué à son obligation de loyauté puisque la preuve ne permet pas de conclure qu'il aurait utilisé des renseignements confidentiels de son ancien employeur ou se serait adonné à d'autres manSuvres déloyales. La preuve révèle plutôt que c'est par choix libre et volontaire que les clients de Lacombe ont décidé de le suivre chez son nouvel employeur.

Commentaires

Il est rare qu'un employeur poursuive un employé qui démissionne sans donner un préavis raisonnable – le jugement de la Cour supérieure rappelle que, au-delà de la courtoisie et du professionnalisme, l'obligation de fournir un délai de congé avant de mettre fin au contrat de travail est une obligation légale qui s'applique tout autant à l'employeur qu'à l'employé.

La décision de la juge Daigle illustre également qu'un tel recours n'est pas réservé à des cas où l'employé démissionnaire est un cadre ou un membre de la direction de l'entreprise.

Cela étant dit, et comme le note la juge Daigle, bien qu'un tel recours soit toujours une possibilité, il demeure bien plus prudent de prévoir des clauses qui anticipent ce genre de situations, à même le contrat de travail : par exemple une clause de non-concurrence ou une clause prévoyant un avis à l'autre partie avant de mettre fin au contrat.

Finalement, notons que la Cour supérieure de l'Ontario a récemment condamné un employé démissionnaire dans des circonstances similaires, impliquant un vendeur responsable d'une part significative des ventes de l'entreprise (Gagnon & Associates Inc. v. Jesso). 

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