Just Cause For Dismissing Long-Term Employee
A senior employee with a previously spotless employment record was dismissed for cause after he got drunk at lunch and crashed a company vehicle on the drive back to the office. On September 16th, 2013, the employee lost his appeal to the Ontario Court of Appeal, which upheld the trial court’s decision that the single incident constituted just cause for his employer to fire him.
Jaroslaw Dziecielski was a 23-year employee and one of the Vice Presidents of Lighting Dimensions. After visiting a client, he stopped for lunch on his way back to the office, and consumed several beers. He then resumed driving, and had a single-vehicle accident, which totaled the vehicle. Mr. Dziecielski pleaded guilty to a criminal drunk driving offense. He had also been driving the company vehicle without proper authorization from the employer.
Suing for Wrongful Dismissal
Lighting Dimensions terminated Mr. Dziecielski with cause as a result of this incident. Mr. Dziecielski sued for wrongful dismissal, arguing that he could not be terminated for cause on the strength of a single, isolated incident, particularly given his long service and clean disciplinary and performance record up to that point.
The courts agreed that, in ordinary circumstances, a single and isolated incident is not sufficient cause to dismiss a long service employee, particularly one with a clean record. However, if a single event is particularly egregious, it may constitute grounds for dismissal with cause. In this case, the Court upheld that the employee’s conduct was sufficient to make dismissal appropriate in the circumstances, due to the misconduct being serious, dangerous, having attracted a criminal conviction, and the employee having put the company at risk of lawsuits and potentially damaging its reputation.
Just Cause For Dismissing Long-Term Employee Must be Determined Contextually
The lesson to take from this case is that just cause must be determined contextually. The employee’s penalty must be proportional to their misconduct. An employee admitting to misconduct not automatically establish just cause, and a single incident of misconduct might constitute just cause if the incident is serious enough.
For example, intoxication alone is not always sufficient to establish just cause: it would not be in a workplace where employees are encouraged to drink and socialize with clients, whereas it would certainly amount to just cause for an airline pilot. Employers would be well served to consult with an employment lawyer before terminating an employee for cause, even if the employee has clearly committed wrongdoing. Employees who have been purportedly dismissed for cause should consider speaking to a lawyer to discuss their possible options.