A recent B.C. case, Fobert v. MCRCI Medicinal Cannabis Resource Centre Inc., highlights the potential cost of handling an employee’s termination in a ‘vindictive and malicious way’.
After a year and a half of employment and some corporate changes, Fobert’s position was no longer required. Despite Fobert’s employment agreement providing for 30 days’ notice of termination, the Company offered her two (2) weeks, which was her minimum statutory entitlement. Fobert brought the discrepancy to the Company’s attention and was told she would be ‘paid out’.
The Company did not pay out Fobert; instead she was invited for a meeting. During that meeting she met with a Company representative she had never met, who advised her the Company was looking into ‘misplaced money’. They further warned her they were willing to go to court and had endless resources. so.” Fobert denied the allegations, but the Company representative continued to emphasize that the Company would challenge any severance claims. To be conciliatory, Fobert attempted to negotiate something less than her contractual entitlement, but the Company representative rebuffed her approach in an aggressive manner using curse words. The representative then said she could take $500 or go ‘through the employment board”.
Following the meeting, Fobert had an anxiety attack brought on by the allegations of misplaced funds and the manner in which she was treated. Mental health issues continued, and she sought counselling.
Fobert filed a claim for wrongful dismissal, claiming reasonable notice of termination, aggravated and punitive damages. The Court determined Fobert’s termination provision was void because the 30 day notice provision contravened employment standards – i.e. had she remained employed for longer she would have eventually been entitled to more than 30 days’ notice under employment standards – and awarded her eight (8) weeks’ notice.
The Court also found that the Company representative’s behaviour during the termination follow-up meeting was “appalling, harsh and reprehensible”, that those statements/actions led Fobert to suffer from anxiety and related symptoms and as a result awarded her $25,000 in aggravated damages. In addition, the Court awarded her $35,000 in punitive damages for the representative’s conduct, as well as other behaviour it characterized as ‘vindictive and malicious’, i.e. an ongoing refusal to payout unpaid wages and statutory termination pay and maintaining unfounded allegations during litigation.
Conducting a termination meeting and post-termination settlement discussions is never easy but mistreating an employee during that process is a sure-fire way to attract additional exposure. As always, we recommend speaking with an e2r® Advisor BEFORE conducting any termination, and especially when negotiating a package after the fact.