There are quite a few cases regarding employer’s contractual obligations to their employees, but what about an employee’s contractual obligation to their employer? Employees also have contractual duties they must fulfill. Refusing to perform those duties can lead a court to find there was a repudiation of the employment contract. In a recent decision, a court had to consider whether a temporary employee had repudiated her contract after a disagreement with her employer.
Temporary Employee Participates in Strike Notice After Disagreement With Employer
The employee was hired as an office manager on a fixed-term contract, for a period of approximately eight months. The employer was a family-run company that installed sod for large residential and commercial sites and their work is seasonal in nature. The employee’s tasks included scheduling, recording worker’s hours, and preparing payroll and cheques for the co-owner of the employer to sign. The employee’s husband also worked for the employer.
The employee alleged abusive behaviour from management. She alleged that the co-owner had asked her to provide all payroll records to him because he had noticed some discrepancies. When the employee went to pick up the cheques, she noticed that her husband’s cheque had not been signed. When she inquired as to why her husband’s cheque had not been signed, the co-owner advised her that there was an issue with the hours she had listed for her husband. The co-owner and employee had two conversations about the matter and nothing was resolved. The employee indicated that she would not return to work unless her husband was paid based on the hours she had recorded.
There was a dispute with respect to whether the employee took all of her belongings with her when she walked out. One witness, another employee, testified that the employee told her she was leaving as she was no longer working for the employer.
On the same day, the employee held a meeting at her home in which her husband and most of the employer’s employees were present. They prepared a strike notice document. The co-owner was advised by another employee that the entire workforce had walked out and would not return to work unless certain demands were met. The co-owner was provided with the strike notice document. The co-owner sent a text message to the employee saying that she was barred from visiting or entering the employer’s premises.
The employee sought damages for wrongful dismissal. The employer counterclaimed for damages for breach of contract.
The Employee did not Resign But Did Repudiate Her Contract
The Court dismissed both claims.
The Court found that the evidence of the witness and co-owner contradicted the employee’s evidence regarding the day of the walk-out. The Court preferred the witness’s evidence. The Court also found that the employee was never able to properly explain why the husband’s hours were recorded separately. The co-owner was able to confirm all employee’s hours except for the husband’s. The employee did not provide the co-owner with a record of her husband’s hours.
The Court concluded, however, that the employee did not resign. A resignation must be clear and unequivocal. That never occurred in this case. The employee never unequivocally told the co-owner that she was not returning. The owner’s testimony was proof that the employee did not unequivocally resign. The situation was unclear. On the other hand, the evidence indicated that the employee had no intention of returning to work.
After considering all of the above, the Court found that the employee had repudiated her contract. The employee had no intention of returning to work unless her conditions were met. The Court found that by organizing the workers to draft the strike notice, the employee was trying to force a change. And again, she would not return unless those changes were implemented.
However, though the Court could not find that she instigated the work stoppage. Instead, she was an active participant. She demanded to be in control of scheduling. She demanded that the co-owner no longer be able to make changes. She demanded that her husband be paid according to the hours she herself had recorded.
The co-owner was ultimately responsible for reviewing the records and signing the paychecks. The Court concluded that the employee failed to keep her husband’s hours and provide the co-owner with a record of her husband’s hours. In doing so, she refused to perform her duties. This was incompatible with her continued employment.
Contact Grosman Gale Fletcher Hopkins LLP in Toronto for Employment Contract Disputes
Both employers and employees must be careful to adhere to the terms of an employment contract. A breach of the contract could have costly consequences for both parties. For advice on employee rights, employer liability and other employment or labour law matters, contact the offices of Toronto employment lawyers Grosman Gale Fletcher Hopkins LLP. We regularly advise workplace parties on a wide range of legal workplace issues. Contact us online or by phone at 416-364-9599 to schedule a consultation.
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