Leave to appeal was recently denied by the Supreme Court of Canada from the British Columbia Court of Appeal’s decision of Steel v. Coast Capital Savings Credit Union, 2015 BCCA 127, which considered whether a single incident of accessing confidential information provided sufficient basis for just cause for dismissal.

In this case, a technical assistant had accessed a confidential document in the personal folders on another employee’s computer in violation of the employer’s policies and protocols. The employer had proceeded to dismiss the employee, citing her actions and the irreparable impact on the employment relationship. The trial judge held the employer has just cause to terminate the employee. The employee argued that her conduct was reflective of a single lapse in judgment and was insufficient for termination for just cause in light of her 21 years of service.

In a split decision, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial judge’s finding of just cause and ruled that it was open to the trial judge to find that the fundamental obligation to obtain an owner’s permission before accessing documents placed the employee in a position of substantial trust, making this trust fundamental to the viability of the employment relationship.

What does this mean for employers/ employees?

Although this ruling affirms that a contextualized approach remains essential for findings of termination for just cause, where an employee holds a position of significant trust, his or her conduct in direct contravention of this trust can be sufficient for a finding of just cause, even if it is limited to a single incident.

This post is intended to provide general information concerning developments in the law and is not intended to provide legal advice in respect of any particular situation.