Should a dismissed employee be entitled to LTD and STD benefits even after the date of dismissal? That is the topic of this article.
Luis Romero Olgin worked for Canac Kitchens as a cabinet maker and production supervisor for 24 years. He was dismissed in 2003 at which time he was 55 years old. His termination was “without cause.” However, Mr. Olgin was not provided with common law severance at the time of dismissal, as required by Ontario law. Instead, he was paid only the bare minimum amounts under the Ontario Employment Standards Act, amounting to 32 weeks’ pay. His benefits were continued for only 8 weeks rather than for a reasonable notice period.
Only two weeks later, Mr. Olgin was able to find new employment with Cartier Kitchens, but at a much lower rate of pay. With Canac Kitchens, Mr. Olgin had been entitled to Short and Long Term Disability Benefits (STD and LTD). However, he could not get these benefits through Cartier.
Approximately 15 months later, Mr. Olgin underwent cancer surgery and continued to require cancer treatment, including various types of surgery for a number of years. By the time this case came to trial, Mr. Olgin was still undergoing cancer treatment. He was still disabled.
Mr. Olgin sued Canac Kitchens for wrongful dismissal. At trial he was awarded a reasonable notice period of 22 months. This meant that he was entitled to everything he would have earned for a period of 22 months, less whatever he earned while working for Cartier. More significantly, Mr. Olgin was entitled to STD and LTD benefits from Canac for the entire reasonable notice period. Since he became disabled approximately 16 months after being dismissed by Canac, Canac was still responsible for Mr. Olgin’s LTD coverage. Based on available medical evidence, Mr. Olgin was awarded damages by the Ontario Superior Court (the late Justice Randall Echlin) for disability benefits to the age of 65. These damages amounted to close to $200,000. Mr. Olgin was also awarded punitive damages of $15,000 and compensation for legal costs of $125,000.
Canac appealed the decision to the Ontario Court of Appeal, which released its decision on January 31, 2012. The Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the full award of STD and LTD benefits for Mr. Olgin to the age of 65. However, the Court of Appeal overturned the punitive damages award since Mr. Olgin had not originally sued for punitive damages.
This decision has tremendous ramifications for employees and employers. The Ontario Court of Appeal has made it clear that employers must provide STD and LTD benefits during any period of reasonable notice. If an employee is dismissed and does not sign a release with his or her former employer, the employee will be entitled to disability benefits if he or she becomes disabled during the reasonable notice period. This would not apply if the employer provides a severance package and the employee signs off – even if benefits are not included in the signed off package.
Employees in Ontario can sue for disability benefits if they become disabled at any time during a reasonable notice period as long as they have not otherwise reached a settlement with their former employer.
For employers in Ontario, the decision means that employers can be held liable for disability benefits if they cancel an employee’s benefits at the time of dismissal or shortly afterwards without a release. Employers can avoid this liability by paying employees reasonably at the time of dismissal and by getting a signed release. Without a release, employers can be liable for the full amount of any disability benefits.
This case clearly demonstrates that employees must be very careful when reviewing and deciding on whether or not to sign a severance package and release. They may be giving up significant potential compensation and should only do so if the severance package is otherwise reasonable.