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Dismissal For Cause – Not So Fast

Whether you are an employer or employee facing an employment law issue, it is important that you seek the advice and expertise of lawyers experienced in dealing with these complex issues, particularly in light of a recent British Columbia Supreme Court decision about when someone can be fired “for cause”.

In the case of Stock v Oak Bay Marina 2017 BCSC 359, the British Columbia Supreme Court confirmed that even if an employee had acted dishonestly, fraudulently or deceitfully, an employer cannot, in all cases, dismiss that employee without giving an adequate warning, even if the nature of the employee’s actions appears to justify immediate dismissal.

In this case, Ms. Stock was a long-term employee who had worked for Oak Bay for over 20 years. Ms. Stock was for the most part a sales agent who sold accommodation and guest activities. In return for her services, Ms. Stock was paid a basic salary and commission based on the sales that she made. With the increased use of online booking over the last 20 years, Oak Bay introduced policies that prevented employees from claiming credit for reservations made online where the sales agents had no involvement.

After the new policy was introduced, Oak Bay discovered that Ms. Stock had claimed commission payments from online reservations. They confronted her at a meeting. Ms. Stock maintained that she had simply intended to call those accounts after the online reservations had been made and upsell them additional services. Ms. Stock did not believe that she had done anything wrong. Oak Bay disagreed and immediately sent Ms. Stock home, terminating her employment for cause. Ms. Stock subsequently brought a claim for wrongful dismissal.

While the court’s judgment is lengthy, the central point the court considered was whether Oak Bay had just cause to terminate Ms. Stock’s employment. The court agreed that Ms. Stock’s misconduct was serious in that she was attempting to claim commissions for sales that she had not made. However, the court considered that in light of Ms. Stock’s length of service, her age, her previous pristine disciplinary record, and the fact that she did not ultimately benefit from claiming the commission as she had already hit her commission cap, a more proportionate disciplinary measure would have been to issue a final warning rather than termination. In conclusion, the court decided that Ms. Stock had been wrongfully dismissed and awarded her damages.

This case provides a cautionary tale to employers and employees demonstrating the difficulty in firing employees for cause. Ultimately, only actions that are so fundamental and egregious are likely to be considered sufficient cause. As each case will likely depend on its own particular facts, there are no hard and fast rules. Employers should ensure that policies and procedures are in place to deal with situations such as this and employees should be aware that proving cause is likely to be a tall order for an employer when a formal warning may be more appropriate.

Whether you are an employer or employee, do not hesitate to contact us at +1 (800) 708-3884 to discuss your employment issues with one of our employment lawyers to guide your case to a successful resolution.

About the author:

This article was written by Mustafa Mohamedali, Associate at Murphy & Company. Mustafa has extensive experience advising clients on a range of legal issues, including employment law and contractual and commercial disputes.

This article is not legal advice and is not intended as legal advice. This article is intended to provide only general, non-specific legal information. This article is not intended to cover all the issues related to the topic discussed. The specific facts that apply to your matter may make the outcome different than would be anticipated by you. This article is based on British Columbia law. You should consult with an attorney familiar with the issues and the laws of your country. This article does not create any attorney client relationship and is not a solicitation.