Rare Ontario case where cause for termination upheld

Sunira Chaudhri

Sunira Chaudhri

Toronto Employment Lawyer

Too often, we minimize the importance of telling the truth, especially when it comes to employment relationships.

Terminations for cause are like average students in an AP physics class; they are unlikely to succeed.


When I write about employers that have braved the courts with such an allegation, I generally prattle on about all of the obvious mistakes that were made, employee rights that were trampled upon and the serious employer sanctions imposed.


Of late, it is not often that employers catch a win in the courts. But today is different. Today I write about a case where an employer, Patene Building Supplies, terminated an employee for cause and won in an Ontario court.


A 13-year employee of Patene, whom I will refer to as S.L., worked as its Health, Safety and Training Manager until she was terminated for cause in December 2019.


S.L. was responsible for providing leadership to Patene in the areas of health, safety, and operational training. She was also responsible for the administration of Patene’s Accident and Incident reporting policies.


S.L. allegedly suffered a fall in Patene’s parking lot at its Brantford facility in March 2019. She claimed she landed on her left hip/lower back area and broke her fall with her left hand.


She did not report the incident to her supervisors. Instead, she initiated a WSIB claim using her employer’s claim form, and received a decision granting her physiotherapy benefits. When WSIB asked S.L. to have her supervisor sign off on the employer claim form, she then alerted her employer to the alleged workplace injury in October 2019 – approximately seven months after it occurred.


The president of Patene conducted an investigation, determined he had lost trust in S.L., and she was subsequently terminated for cause. The grounds for the termination were “dishonesty, serious conflict of interests, breach of your fiduciary obligations, and potentially fraudulent conduct.”


S.L. sued for wrongful dismissal damages.


At trial, when asked why she didn’t report her injuries to her employer when the fall occurred, S.L. testified she was “too embarrassed” to report the incident as she was the Health, Safety and Training Manager.


This, however, conflicted with her affidavit evidence that she reported it by phone to one of her managers. The trial judge found there were no phone records establishing that a call was ever made.


The court found significant concerns about the credibility and reliability of S.L.’s evidence.


Employers have a legal obligation to report workplace injuries or they could be found guilty of an offence. There were potentially serious implications for Patenne flowing from S.L. failing to disclose her injury.


Ultimately, the court found Patene had cause to terminate S.L.


The court stated: “While the Plaintiff’s misconduct flows from one incident, it is not a one-off lapse in judgment. Instead, the Plaintiff engaged in a continuing pattern of attempting to hide her failure to report the alleged accident to her employer.”


S.L. will likely be responsible for paying considerable legal costs to her employer following the loss of her case.


This is a case about dishonesty. Too often, we minimize the importance of telling the truth, especially when it comes to employment relationships.


Pantene took good care to investigate the act of dishonesty and was able to prepare a case that revealed additional acts of concealment and lack of candour to solidify its case. After all, one lie is generally closely followed by the next.


At work, honesty is the bedrock of the relationship between employers and employees. It is the glue that binds. Lying is not necessarily fatal to an employment relationship. But, lying to defend a previous lie, usually is.


Have a workplace issue? Maybe I can help! Email me at sunira@worklylaw.com and your question may be featured in a future column.


The content of this article is general information only and is not legal advice.

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