The Ontario Superior Court of Justice provided an interesting decision which confirmed the difficulty an employer faces when terminating an employee with cause in Phanlouvong v. Northfield Metal Products, 2014 ONSC 6585 (Phanlouvong). This case arose after labourer was terminated after 16 years of service at a manufacturing facility. The employee was alleged to have punched a co-worker in the face while at work. He was subsequently terminated with cause and provided no pay in lieu of notice.

The trial judge accepted evidence that the employee had been bumped into by a coworker who failed to apologize. The employee, who had a verbal altercation with the coworker the previous day, had a heightened reaction and punched his co-worker in the nose, sending him crashing to the floor. Despite the assault, the trial judge found that the employer was not entitled to dismiss the employee without a reasonable notice period, or pay in lieu thereof. An important factor in the analysis was that during his previous 16 years of service with the company, the employee had no incidents of indiscipline.

The Court concluded that the employer was not able to rely on its duties to provide a safe workplace under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act in justifying the employee’s termination with cause. The Court noted that the law surrounding termination with cause requires a contextual analysis of the factors leading up to the termination. In Phanlouvong, the employee’s lone act of violence over his 16 years’ service did not meet the onus of termination without notice.

The Plaintiff was awarded $45,166, which was equivalent to 15 months’ wages, in lieu of his reasonable notice period. His claim for aggravated damages for mental distress for the manner in which he was terminated was dismissed by the Court.

What Does This Mean To You?

Phanlouvong reinforces the high onus an employer has to prove, on a balance of probabilities, that an employee should be terminated with cause. The employer must be able to show that there are no other reasonable alternatives to terminating the employee without notice. Even where a case for immediate termination without notice appears to be justified, an employer may wish to seek an opinion from legal counsel.

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.