In the recent decision of Czerniawski v. Corma Inc., 2021 ONSC 1514, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that a long-term employee’s one-time misconduct without any prior progressive discipline did not justify dismissal without notice.
The Court reaffirmed that a contextual approach should be used to assess whether an employee’s misconduct justifies termination without notice. It noted that the principle of proportionality should be applied where an effective balance should be achieved between the severity of the employee’s misconduct and the sanction imposed. The Court ruled that with no prior disciplinary actions, the isolated incident in this case did not warrant termination for just cause and thus awarded nineteen (19) months’ reasonable notice to this employee.
Mr. Czerniawski worked as an assembler for the Defendant for nineteen (19) years without any performance issues. Mr. Czerniawski was terminated alleged for cause when he got into a verbal dispute with a co-worker over work distribution. After refusing to leave the work premises, he was escorted off work by the police. Mr. Czerniawski was then asked not to return to the workplace until further notice by the employer and the police. However, after four days of hearing nothing from the employer, Mr. Czerniawski went to the reception of the plant to deliver a letter stating his side of story.
Without interviewing Mr. Czerniawski for his version of the incident, the employer abruptly terminated him and specified two grounds for dismissal without notice, namely a) Mr. Czerniawski was acting in a threatening matter to coworkers; b) Mr. Czerniawski was subordinate by refusing to leave the workplace and then returning to deliver the letter.
In this case, the Court fully considered the all the circumstances surrounding the dismissal and concluded that the misconduct did not justify termination without notice.
The Court followed the decision of McKinley v. BC Tel, 2001 SCC 38 and noted that “an employee’s misconduct does not inherently justify dismissal without notice unless it is ‘so grievous’ that intimates the employee’s abandonment of the intention to remain part of the employment relationship” (para 21). The Court noted that careful consideration should be given to the particular facts as well as the employee’s tenure and discipline history.
The Court analyzed the evidence submitted by both parties and found that the employee was a solid and steady worker with no prior history of discipline, threats or violence. Mr. Czerniawski was not given any opportunity to state his version of the incident during the investigation conducted by the employer. The Court relied upon a number of case law and ruled that given that Mr. Czerniawski was a conscientious employee with no prior incident of violence, progressive discipline such as a disciplinary letter or suspension would be an appropriate action that could send the message that his behaviour was unacceptable and given him a warning that a continuation could result in his dismissal.
The Court ruled that the Plaintiff’s misconduct was not so egregious to warrant a dismissal without notice. By taking into account Mr. Czerniawski’s age (54) , length of service (19 years) and technical nature of his position, the Court awarded him nineteen (19) months with benefits for this notice period.
Takeways For Employers And Employees
This case serves as a reminder to employers that you should bear in mind the principle of progressive discipline before terminating any employees for cause. You are strongly advised to consult an employment lawyer in regard to appropriate sanctions once you are aware of the employee’s misconduct.
Employers should interview the employee and ask them to provide their versions of the incident. You should interview all relevant parties and conduct a full and fair investigation. Most importantly, you should consider give the employee a disciplinary letter or suspension before terminating them. You should only consider terminating the employee for cause when you are certain that the misconduct is egregious enough to warrant a dismissal without reasonable notice.
For employees, this case also sheds light on how to act appropriately once you are terminated alleged for cause. You should ask the employer for particulars about the alleged just cause, if the termination letter does not specify the reasons. You should also bear in mind that the just cause test is stringent. It is advisable for you to consult an employment lawyer for legal options before you sign any settlement documents.
If you are experiencing any employment law issues in regard to termination, Top Toronto employment lawyer, Stacey ball can help you determine your legal options. Please call us at 416-921-7997, extension 227.