The B.C. Court of Appeal recently gave employers a much-needed
reminder: they're entitled to reasonable notice too.
While most employees are familiar with the fact that they are
entitled to reasonable notice if they're terminated without
cause, employers sometimes forget that the obligation works both
ways. An employee cannot simply stop showing up to work without
giving their employer time to prepare for the employee's
In Consbec v Walker, the Court of Appeal
considered the case of Peter Walker, a former employee of Consbec
Inc., a blasting and drilling company operating throughout Canada.
While working as Consbec's only employee in its Kamloops'
office, Walker abruptly quit one day in June of 2002, leaving the
office for good without having given Consbec any prior warning.
Walker incorporated a competitor company a month later.
A lower court initially awarded Consbec $56,116.11 in damages
for Walker's failure to give the company notice. Ultimately,
the Court of Appeal scaled this amount back. The Court ruled that
an employee who quits without giving notice is only responsible for
those damages that flow from his or her failure to give notice
– they are not on the hook for all the costs associated with
their resignation in general. Importantly, in its decision, the
Court of Appeal determined that Walker legally owed his employer a
reasonable notice of one month before leaving.
Still, the end result of the case does shed light on why
employers don't usually bother pursuing these types of claims.
The Court of Appeal ultimately found that the reasonable costs that
Consbec incurred, from sending a last-minute employee to Kamloops
to fill in for Walker, were more than offset by the money the
company saved not paying Walker's salary for a month. Thus, the
damage award was set aside.
So, employers should beware. If they've been left in the
lurch by an employee, they do have potential recourse. However,
it's important that they seriously consider whether a former
employee's wrongful quitting actually cost them enough to
justify a legal proceeding. Otherwise, an employer can only hope
for – at most – a symbolic victory.
Written with the assistance of John Schudlo, articling
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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.
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