Canada: L'obligation de l'employeur de déployer des efforts raisonnables pour réaffecter un salarié avant de le congédier pour incompétence

Les employeurs québécois se soumettent depuis plusieurs années à des exigences avant de se départir d'un salarié incompétent :

  1. Le salarié doit connaître les politiques de l'entreprise et les attentes de l'employeur à son endroit;
  2. Ses lacunes doivent lui avoir été signalées;
  3. Il doit avoir obtenu le soutien nécessaire pour se corriger et atteindre ses objectifs;
  4. Il doit avoir bénéficié d'un délai raisonnable pour s'ajuster; et
  5. Il doit avoir été prévenu du risque de congédiement faute d'amélioration de sa part.

Ces critères ont été entérinés par la Cour d'appel du Québec en 2005 dans l'affaire Costco Wholesale Canada Ltd. c. Laplante1 (ci-après « Costo ») et étaient, jusqu'au 4 octobre 2017, considérés comme des exigences claires en la matière. Or, voilà que  la décision Commission scolaire Kativik c. Ménard2 (ci-après « Kativik  ») de la Cour supérieure vient brouiller plus de douze ans de jurisprudence constante en imposant une exigence additionnelle à l'employeur. Dorénavant, celui-ci pourrait en effet devoir déployer des efforts raisonnables pour réaffecter le salarié à un autre poste compatible avant de mettre fin à son emploi pour cause d'incompétence.

L'historique jurisprudentiel des critères

Les critères applicables en matière de congédiement administratif pour incompétence ont été pour la première fois énoncés en 1982 dans la sentence arbitrale Edith Cavell Private Hospital v. Hospital Employees' Union, Local 1803, rendue en Colombie-Britannique. Dans cette affaire, un hôpital de Vancouver souhaitait congédier sa cuisinière en chef à qui il reprochait de façon générale l'état désorganisé de sa cuisine et ses répercussions sur la qualité de l'alimentation des patients.

Énonçant le test à six critères que nous connaissons maintenant, le conseil d'arbitrage considère alors être confronté à un rendement piètre, mais « non-coupable ». Ces exigences, mieux connues sous le nom de « test d'Edith Cavell », ont été reprises à travers le Canada et même confirmées par la Cour suprême en 20044.

Toutefois, lorsque la Cour d'appel du Québec entérine ce test en 2005 dans l'affaire Costco, elle omet le passage du test traitant de l'obligation pour l'employeur de déployer des efforts raisonnables pour réaffecter l'employé à un autre poste compatible. Aucune raison n'est donnée pour justifier cette omission. Résultat : l'obligation de réaffecter dans la mesure du possible un salarié incompétent n'est jamais appliquée par les tribunaux québécois avant que ce critère soit ramené sur la table dans l'affaire Kativik. Analysons plus en détail cette décision.

La décision Kativik

Un salarié syndiqué occupant un poste de technicien en administration dans une école depuis au moins dix ans est congédié pour incompétence. Avant d'être congédié, le salarié signe un plan d'amélioration du rendement d'une durée de trois mois qui doit l'aider à combler ses lacunes. Durant cette période, malgré les nombreuses rencontres avec sa supérieure, aucune amélioration n'est remarquée chez le salarié. L'employeur lui offre alors de le muter à un poste de réceptionniste, poste qu'il occupait auparavant. Il refuse et est congédié quelques semaines plus tard. Un grief pour congédiement injuste est alors déposé.

L'arbitre accueille le grief puisque, selon lui, la Commission scolaire a contrevenu « à son obligation de trouver une autre solution raisonnable au congédiement du salarié ». Selon l'arbitre, il était déraisonnable d'exiger du salarié qu'il donne une réponse à l'employeur quant au poste de réceptionniste dans un délai de trois jours, alors que l'offre du poste était valide pendant un délai plus long que celui imposé au salarié. L'employeur dépose alors un pourvoi en contrôle judiciaire pour contester la décision de l'arbitre.

La Cour supérieure rejette le pourvoi en contrôle judiciaire et confirme que la décision de l'arbitre est raisonnable puisqu'elle fait partie des « issues possibles acceptables au regard des faits et du droit ». La Cour, tout en réitérant les critères établis dans Costco, mentionne qu'il n'y a aucune raison mise de l'avant par les parties pour justifier que l'ensemble des critères du « test d'Edith Cavell » ne s'applique pas intégralement au Québec. Selon elle, il est illogique que les règles régissant les employeurs et les salariés soient différentes au Québec par rapport au reste du Canada. Le critère des efforts raisonnables pour réaffecter le salarié dans un autre poste compatible prévaut donc au Québec à ce jour.

Nos recommandations

Désormais, à la lumière des conclusions de la Cour supérieure dans l'affaire Kativik, un employeur québécois qui souhaite congédier administrativement un salarié incompétent doit non seulement respecter les critères de Costco, mais également déployer des efforts raisonnables pour réaffecter le salarié à un autre poste compatible. Bien que cette décision ait été rendue dans un contexte de milieu syndiqué, rien ne laisse présager que le test revisité ne pourrait s'appliquer dans des rapports individuels.

Par contre, certaines nuances s'imposent.

Tout d'abord, il est à noter que la requête pour permission d'appeler de la décision Kativik a été accueillie par la Cour d'appel du Québec le 15 février 2018. Il faudra voir si le plus haut tribunal de la province maintiendra les conclusions de la décision arbitrale.

De plus, ce nouveau critère « d'efforts raisonnables » ne doit s'appliquer que « dans les cas qui le justifient ». Il s'agit donc d'une obligation de moyens et non de résultat. D'ailleurs, la Cour supérieure précise qu'il ne sera pas toujours possible de réaffecter un employé incompétent ailleurs dans la même entreprise. L'employeur n'est pas contraint de créer un poste pour le salarié incompétent et encore moins de le supplanter. Néanmoins, nous suggérons fortement aux employeurs de faire cet exercice objectivement avant de mettre fin administrativement à l'emploi d'un salarié incompétent et d'offrir un tel poste, sous réserve des commentaires précédents.

Footnotes

1. 2005 QCCA 788.

2. 2017 QCCS 4686.

3. [1982] 6 L.A.C. (3d) 229.

4. A.U.P.E. c. Lethbridge Community College, 2004 CSC 28.

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