Supreme Court delivers important ruling on unfair dismissal

The Supreme Court has ruled that federally-regulated workers must be given cause when terminated.

An important ruling came down from the Supreme Court of Canada last year concerning unfair dismissal which could impact hundreds of thousands of workers and employers. The court ruled that non-unionized workers who are covered by the Canada Labour Code, such as those working in banking, telecommunications, marine shipping, and at some Crown corporations, enjoy protections from unfair dismissal that are similar to the protections enjoyed by workers who are covered by a collective agreement. There are approximately 820,000 federally-regulated workers in Canada, 500,000 of whom are non-unionized and will be most impacted by this decision.

Dismissed without cause

In 2009, a supervisor at a Crown corporation was suddenly fired with severance pay despite having a spotless disciplinary record at the company he worked at for more than four years. That supervisor claimed that his firing was in retaliation for having blown the whistle on corrupt practices at the company. The individual, however, was not part of a union, which his employer claimed meant that it did not have to provide him with cause for his dismissal. However, because he worked in a federally-regulated industry, he claimed he did have the right to complain about his dismissal to an adjudicator under the Canada Labour Code. After a series of appeals, the case made its way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Worker cannot be fired without cause

The country's top court sided with the former supervisor and argued that when the relevant provisions in the Canada Labour Code were passed in 1978, it was the intent of Parliament to grant non-unionized federally-regulated workers the right to complain to an adjudicator about a potentially unfair dismissal. The court noted that there had been 1,740 cases since those provisions had been passed. In all but 18 of them the adjudicators in those cases affirmed the right of the employee to complain about an unfair dismissal.

The ruling means that the supervisor can now go back to the adjudicator and file a complaint about his termination. That could mean that if his complaint is successful he may ultimately be entitled to compensation or reinstatement. More importantly, it means that non-unionized workers who work in federally-regulated industries now must be provided with cause when they are dismissed, regardless of whether or not they are provided with a severance package.

Legal help

The case is an important one for many employers and employees. It is also a reminder of how quickly employment and business law can change. For both employers and employees, the case should serve as an example of why it is so important to retain legal counsel when dealing with an employment contract dispute. An experienced law firm can help clients resolve their disputes in a satisfactory manner, either through direct negotiations or, if necessary, by going to court.