Key Employment Law Cases of 2013

Employment Law Issues in Bawdy Houses
December 30, 2013
Limits of Religious Accommodation in the Workplace
January 10, 2014

Key Employment Law Cases of 2013

I have put together a collection of some key employment law cases for 2013.  2013 was an interesting year for employment law, though I would be hard pressed to say that most of these cases are particularly earth-shattering.  Nevertheless, this summary should help provide a flavour for some key developments.

For each case, I have included the link to the actual decision (if easily available) as well as a link to my blog article about the decision, if I had prepared one.

As an added bonus, I have highlighted a few of my selected blog entries from 2013 at the end of the list.

1.  Communications, Energy and Paperworkers of Canada Local 30 v. Irving Pulp & Paper Ltd.

Blog post – here.

The Supreme Court of Canada struck out a universal workplace alcohol and drug testing policy.  Although this decision was in a unionized context, it nevertheless demonstrates that universal alcohol and drug testing policies in Canada are unlikely to pass judicial scrutiny.  This is certainly a helpful precedent for employee workplace privacy.

2.  IBM Canada v. Waterman

The Supreme Court of Canada held that pension benefits that are payable to a dismissed employee should not be deductible by an employer against wrongful dismissal damages that might otherwise be owing.  This does not seem to be such a controversial decision even though there was a dissenting court opinion.  Certainly, I cannot recall seeing an employer insist on deducting pension benefits as an offset against dismissal damages owing.  Nevertheless, the case made its way all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which clarified the law.

3.  Payette v. Guay Inc.

Blog post – here.

The Supreme Court of Canada enforced a five year non-competition clause in a commercial context.  The case is significant because it shows that Canadian courts are willing to take a much different approach to non-competition clauses in commercial cases, as opposed to pure employment cases.  Business owners who sell their businesses or other intellectual property will generally be expected to honour the terms of a non-competition agreement, even after a lengthy period of employment with the purchaser.

4. Pate Estate v. Galway Cavendish and Harvey (Township)

Blog post – here.

The Ontario Court of Appeal reduced a punitive damages award from $550,000 to $450,000 for malicious prosecution in a wrongful dismissal case.  This is one of the largest punitive damages awards in Ontario in this type of case.  Although the facts were quite extreme, this is still a huge award by Canadian standards.  Here, The township was found to have deliberately withheld key exculpatory evidence while pushing to have the plaintiff charged criminally.  The plaintiff was ultimately forced to go through a criminal trial and was fully exonerated.  The behaviour of the Township was considered reprehensible and monetary damages were awarded accordingly.  Unfortunately for Mr. Pate, he passed away before the Ontario Court of Appeal decision was released.

5.  Johnstone v. AG (Canada)

Blog post – here

The Federal Court of Canada upheld an arbitrator’s conclusion that the definition of “family status” for purposes of human rights protection includes child care responsibilities.  A border services officer was held to be entitled to accommodation in the workplace for her child care challenges.  The case has attracted a great deal of discussion over the definition of family  status and the extent of requred accommodation.

6.  Alberta (Information and Privacy Commissioner) v. United Food and Commercial Workers

The Supreme Court  of Canada invalidated the Alberta Personal Information Protection Act (“PIPA”) in the context of a labour dispute in which a union claimed the legal right to record pictures and videos of individuals crossing a picket line during a lawful strike.  The Supreme Court highlighted  the importance of freedom of expression even as it cautioned that the right is not absolute.

7.  General Motors of Canada v. Johnson

Blog post – here

The Ontario Court of Appeal overturned a lower court finding of constructive dismissal on the basis of a poisoned work environment.  The case demonstrates how difficult it is to prove the existence of a “poisoned work environment.”  It also shows how challenging it can be to advance claims of racism in a workplace.

8.  Wilson v. Solace Mexican Foods

An Ontario Superior Court awarded damages for violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code in the context of a wrongful dismissal case.  This was the first case to award such damages in Ontario since the Code was amended in 2008.  The case has demonstrated that plaintiffs can claim a broad range of damages in wrongful dismissal cases in Ontario.  If the facts warrant it, dismissed employees can use the court process to obtain damages for human rights violations.

9.  Fair v. Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board

The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal reinstated an employee back into her position more than eight and a half years after she had been dismissed.  Significantly, the Tribunal awarded full back pay for the entire time that the employee had been off work – more than $400,000.  The decision demonstrates that reinstatement, coupled with back pay, can be the most powerful remedy available to a dismissed employee where there has been a violation of human right legislation.

10.  The Globe and Mail v. Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada

Blog post – here.

Former Globe and Mail reporter Jan Wong was ordered by an arbitrator to pay back the proceeds of her grievance settlement for having breached the terms of a confidential agreement that was signed as part of the settlement.  The case is a rare example of an ajudicative body actually enforcing a confidentiality agreement, with extremely harsh consequences for the employee.  Dismissed employees will see this as a clear warning to refrain from disclosing any information whatsoever about their wrongful dismissal settlements.

2013 Blog Posts – Selected Highlights

Aside from these 10 court decisions, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight a few Joblaw blogs from 2013:

1.  Employment Law Issues in Bawdy Houses:

I squeezed this one in under the wire in 2013, following the Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate Canada’s prostitution laws.

2.  Quitting Your Job in Style?  Think Carefully.

I couldn’t resist a blog about quitting after the employee-made quit video that went viral on youtube in 2013.

3.  Should Employees Have Faith in Workplace Accommodation of Religion?

I reviewed a number of issues relating to workplace accomodation of religious requirements in this post.

4.  Ontario Divisional Court Overturns Whacky Arbitration Decison

This blog is a discussion of an Ontario Divisional Court decision involving a dismissed crown empoyee who was found to have committed some indecent acts.

5.  Signing an Employment Contract in Canada?  Points to Consider

A review of some key considerations when looking over a Canadian employment contract.

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