Can an employer “recall” an employee back to work as a way of avoiding a wrongful dismissal lawsuit? Even if the employee was wrongfully dismissed? Since the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Evans v. Teamsters Local Union No. 31 (Joblaw blog: Evans), this has become a serious strategy for some employers, especially if the offer is seen as one that was made in good faith.
In a recent case of the Ontario Superior Court, Chevalier v. Active Tire & Auto Centre, a wrongful dismissal case brought by a 33 year employee was dismissed for failure to return to work.
The plaintiff, Earl Chevalier, a service centre manager with Active Tire, was placed on a lay-off with minimal notice and no compensation. Mr. Chevalier wasted no time in suing Active Tire for wrongful dismissal two weeks after being dismissed. He claimed that he could not be “laid-off” with no pay and that this was a constructive dismissal. In response to the lawsuit, Active Tire wrote to Mr. Chevalier, apologized and asked him to come back to work. Mr. Chevalier elected not to return to work and instead proceeded with his law suit.
At trial, the Court agreed that Mr. Chevalier had been constructively dismissed. Active Tire could not just lay him off with no notice after 33 years. However, the main issue was whether Mr. Chevalier should have been required to return to work in these circumstances. He argued that Active Tire had tried to “make his life miserable” in the period leading up to his dismissal and he therefore would have had to return to work in an atmosphere of “hostility, embarrassment or humiliation.”
After reviewing the evidence, the Court rejected Mr. Chevalier’s claims. It held that a “reasonable person” would have returned to work in all of the circumstances. Mr. Chevalier was not able to demonstrate to the Court that his workplace had become intolerable and he was therefore required to return.
If Active Tire had not called Mr. Chevalier back to work, the Court ruled that he would have been entitled to 16 months’ compensation – the time period it took Mr. Chevalier to find new employment. However, the result in this case was that he was not entitled to anything and was required to pay legal fees to Active Tire, as well as his own.
This case is an example of the risky nature of wrongful dismissal litigation. It illustrates the importance of obtaining proper legal advice and following it. Under current Canadian case law, employees who are dismissed or laid off off must seriously consider an employer’s offer to return to work, if it is an offer made in good faith. Important points to consider may be:
Dismissed employees should carefully review all of these issues, as well as other related matters, with competent employment law counsel. Making the wrong decision can be costly and harsh.