An employer may be justified in terminating an employee without notice for failing to obey an order in certain circumstances. The order must be unambiguous and connected to a legitimate workplace purpose, and the employer must be able to prove that the employee willfully and intentionally disobeyed. This can also be the case where an employee disobeys well known and established workplace policies. Again, the policy in question must be linked to a legitimate workplace purpose and be willfully and intentionally disobeyed by the employee.
Simoes v. Metaldyne Machining and Assembly Manufacturing
With regards to leaves of absences due to illness, failing to follow a medical plan for the purpose of returning to work can be grounds for termination. In the case of Simoes v. Metaldyne Machining and Assembly Manufacturing Co., 2006 (ON SC)., Simoes, a production supervisor, developed an inner ear problem that affected his balance and caused him to feel dizzy. After going on short-term disability, Simoes returned to work only to have reoccurring symptoms, affecting his concentration at work.
Facts of the Case:
During his return, Simoes asked his human resources (HR) manager to approve a 2 week vacation request from September 19th to the 30th so that he can attend family matters in Portugal. The HR manager approved the request on the condition that Simoes’ doctor confirm that Simoes will be able to travel safely with his current medical condition. The doctor was unable to declare Simoes fit for the trip to Portugal. Simoes, however, went back on sick leave as of September 2nd of 2015. On September 26th, while still on leave, Simoes flew to Portugal because his father became seriously sick and eventually passed away a few days later. The HR manager became aware and was concerned that Simoes would not be attending his medical appointments for the purpose of monitoring and treating his condition. The HR manager called Simoes on October 20th and Simoes stated he is not leaving Portugal until he settled his father’s estate. Having requested an extension to his leave, the HR manager told Simoes that the company is not prepared to further accommodate his stay and that he must return to Canada immediately so that his treatment can resume. Simoes stated that he does not intend to return until December 5th, 2015. On November 2nd, the HR manager sent Simoes a letter advising him that Metaldyne took the position that Simoes has abandoned his employment, and his benefits would end effective October 31st. The letter stated that Metaldyne considered Simoes’ refusal to return to Canada before the month of December, and their concern with the fact that he is not following his treatment.
The court maintained that the termination of Simoes was just. The judge stated that the most recent medical report the company had was dated September 8th which stated Simoes needed to see his doctor at least every 2 weeks for monitoring and treatment. The judge then found the employer reasonable in ordering Simoes to return to Canada for his required treatment, and in denying Simoes a 2-month stay in Portugal as he requested. The court also considered that Simoes exhausted all his emergency and bereavement leave he was entitled to under employment standards law.
Analysis of the Decision:
The reason that Simoes’ refusal to come back to Canada was grounds for dismissal is that this order was tied to a condition necessary to the continuance of Simoes’ employment relation with Metaldyne. Simoes had to follow his treatment plan for his successful return to work. Having willfully and intentionally disobeyed the order to resume treatment, Metaldyne was justified in terminating Simoes’ employment. As this order was tied to Simoes’ necessary treatment needed for him to transition back to work, Simoes’ refusal severed an essential condition for the employment relation to continue.
If you are an employer concerned that an employee is intentionally refusing to comply with a medical plan aimed at preparing the employee to return to work, it is important to seek consultation from an employment law lawyer before acting. Each case is unique and requires the examination of the particular facts as they relate to the employment relation, the employee’s condition, and the goal of returning to work.