Sunday, December 13, 2015

No Valid Policy Reason for Denying Application of Constructive Dismissal to Unionized Employees

Constructive Dismissal

20.       The Supreme Court of Canada recently articulated a two step test in 
determining whether an employer’s acts constitute constructive dismissal.  
Firstly, the court must identify an express or implied conract term that has 
been breached.  Secondly, the court must determine whether the breach was 
sufficiently serious to constitute constructive dismissal.  The court noted that 
an employer’s conduct will also constitute constructive dismissal if it more 
generally shows that the employer intended not to be bound by the contract.

                        Potter   v.  Aide Juridique du N.B. [2015] 1 S.C.R. 500

21.       There does not exist any sound policy reason for the doctrine of 
constructive dismissal to be denied to public sector employees covered by 
a collective agreement who find themselves in the circumstances which the 
Applicant found himself in this case. To be clear those circumstances involve 
the following salient facts and circumstances:

                                    1.         Being prohibited from the workplace;

                                    2.         Denied pay; and

                                    3.         The bargaining agent refusing to represent him.

22.       IT IS SUBMITTED THAT what distinguishes a common law 
employment relationship from one in the collective bargaining regime is the 
existence of a collective agreement, a bargaining agent whose job it is to 
represent and advocate for its members through the grievance administration 

23.       Where an employer changes  a union members position, salary, 
reporting etc. that employee may dispute employer action by filing a 
grievance.  The worker at common law does not have the luxury of filing a 
grievance and can consider the employer’s act a breach which may entitle 
him to claim constructive dismissal.

24.       However, where the bargaining agent abandons the worker - 
is not that worker in an analogous position to the worker at common law ?  
Could it not be said on the facts of this particular case that the employer and 
the bargaining agent have made a joint decision not to be bound by the 
employment relationship involving the Applicant ?

25.       IT IS RESPECTFULLY SUBMITTED THAT the employer’s submission 
which is duly noted at paragraph 11 of the Adjudicator’s Reasons both 
amplifies and supports a finding that the employer intended not to be bound 
by the collective agreement.  “The employer also noted that since the 
grievor was not represented by his union, he could not raise issues 
pertaining to the collective agreement.  Therefore, the employer took the 
position that the grievance should be dismissed on the ground that I did 
not have jurisdiction.”  The employer’s own words are even more telling.  
They wrote in their initial written submission dated May 1st, 2014:  
“It is noteworthy that the Applicant's bargaining agent has advised the 
Employer that they do not represent the Grievor on any of these matters.  
As such, it is the Employer’s respectful submission that the Board would 
lack jurisdiction over the Applicant’s grievance should the Grievor allege 
that some of the issues raised in his grievance pertain to the Collective 

                                                Adjudicator’s Reasons at para 11
                                                Employer’s submission – Tab 10
                                                Applicant’s Application Record – Tab C             

 Importance of work and
The manner of termination
Important to individual:

26.       In Machtinger   v.  Hoj Industries Ltd. [1992] 986 (SCC) the Supreme 
Court of Canada made some significant and powerful observations on the 
importance of work to society and the individual employee.  The court focused 
particular attention on the manner in which employment can be terminated.  
The following excerpt from the court’s decision is directly applicable to the 
case at hand:

                             Section 10 of the Interpretation Act, R.S.O. 1990 c 219,
                             provides that every Act “shall be deemed to be remedial”
                             and directs that every Act shall “receive such fair, large
                             and liberal construction and interpretation as will best
                             ensure the attainment of the object of the Act according to
                             its true intent, meaning and spirit.”  The objective of the
                             Act is to protect the interests of employees by requiring
                             employers to comply with certain minimum standards,
                             including minimum periods of notice of termination.
                             To quote Conant Co. Ct. J. in Pickup, supra at p.274
                             “the general intention of this legislation [i.e. the Act] is
                             the protection of employees, and to that end it institutes
                             reasonable, fair and uniform minimum standards.”
                             The harm which the Act seeks to remedy is that
                             individual employees, and in particular non-unionized
                             employees, are often in an unequal bargaining
                             position in relation to their employers.  As stated by
                             Swinton, supra at p.363:

                             …the terms of the employment contract rarely result
                             from an exercise of free bargaining power in the way
                             that the paradigm commercial exchange between two
                             traders does.  Individual employees on the whole lack
                             both the bargaining power and the information necessary
                             to achieve more favorable contract provisions than those
                             offered by the employer, particularly with regard to tenure.

27.       IT IS SUBMITTED THAT the words of the Supreme Court of Canada 
above provide context and support for the Applicant’s position that there is no 
valid policy reason to exclude employees in his circumstances the benefit of 
the doctrine of constructive dismissal.  A proper reading of the legislation in 
question makes It clear that the objective of the legislation is to extend rights 
to individual employees notwithstanding the fact that they are covered by 
a collective agreement.  An interpretation of that legislation which permits
the employer and bargaining agent to effectively dismiss an employee at 
will without any legal redress is not what the legislature had in mind.  
Constructive dismissal must be available to the Applicant given the specific 
circumstances in which he found himself.

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