Employers should be familiar with the concept of frustrated contracts in employment law. Frustration considers what the parties (employer and employee) could reasonably contemplate at the time the employment agreement was made. Put simply, when an event occurs that prevents a worker from performing the essentials of their job, then the contract may become frustrated since this was unforeseen at the time the employment contract was agreed upon. If so, the employment relation can end with no severance owed to the employee.
When an employer offers long term disability benefits (LTD), this may create a situation where the employer should have seen the possibility of a disability preventing an employee from working at some point in the future. This is because the employer could have reasonably contemplated this as a possibility when employment offers or subsequent entitlement contain LTD benefits. Essentially, LTD benefits offered by an employer will create a situation where an employer will find it more difficult to argue an employment contract has ben frustrated, which was the case in Antonacci v. Great Atlantic & Pacific Co. of Canada.
In this case, the court stated that the provision of LTD benefits shows that the employer was able to contemplate the possibility of a lengthy leave of absence during the course of employment. In particular, the employee here was a long term worker that eventually had to take an extended leave. The fact that the employee had been with the employer for a long period of time and the provision of LTD benefits made the employer’s argument of frustration harder to prove.
When faced with an employee on an extended leave it is necessary to take a holistic analysis of each fact. Proving frustration is a high burden, and having an employee on a long term leave lasting 2 or more years does not necessarily frustrate the employment contract. It is advisable to seek the advice of an employment lawyer when faced with such a situation.