Employee’s 'theory' that he was dismissed for questioning his employer’s safety systems was just a theory, not evidence

Employee still received aggravated and punitive damages for manner of dismissal; employer didn't give reason for abrupt firing
By Cristina Wendel
|employmentlawtoday.com|Last Updated: 03/15/2018

A judge in a recent wrongful dismissal action dismissed the employee’s allegation that he was dismissed after making suggestions about improvements to the employer’s safety systems. The employee was a relatively short-term employee (25 months), working as a Control Systems Specialist. His duties included designing, implementing and monitoring various control systems for machines manufactured by the employer.

The employee testified that the employer had been involved in a fatality in California, involving one of its machines. As a result, the employee claimed that he became concerned about the employer’s future liability and took it upon himself to do some research regarding safety systems. He sent an email to his general manager making suggestions, including a redesign of the system and a rewrite of the safety manual. The general manager had replied to say that the employer was looking for an expert, would be reviewing training methods, and that he was open to further discussion. He also stated that the employer’s goal was not to escape liability but rather, to “build machines that do not hurt people.” The day after this email exchange, the employee was called into a meeting and terminated without cause. He was not given a reason and when he asked, he was told that the employer’s counsel had instructed it not to give a reason. He was escorted out of the office in a civil manner. The employee followed up a few days later, again asking for a reason for his dismissal but the employer did not respond.

At trial, the employee's theory was that he was dismissed because he was questioning the employer’s safety systems. Other employees had told him he “wasn’t a good fit.” The employer denied that the reason for the employee’s dismissal was his concern with the safety system. The general manager testified that the employer had been experiencing some financial challenges that resulted in 12 employees being dismissed, managers taking a salary cut, overtime hours being lost, and several projects being in jeopardy. He claimed that the timing of the dismissal the day after the employee’s emails about his perceived safety issues was a coincidence and that the employee was dismissed because he was not a good fit.

In addition to damages for reasonable notice of termination, the employee claimed he was entitled to aggravated and punitive damages as a result of the manner in which he was dismissed. His evidence was largely related to the employer’s refusal to give him a reason for the dismissal and the timing with relation to his emails about the safety concerns. The judge found that the employee’s theories were not supported by the evidence and were insufficient to justify an award of aggravated or punitive damages. The judge held that the employer’s conduct was not malicious and high-handed so as to warrant additional damages and dismissed that aspect of the employee’s claim.

For more information see:

• Dragos v. Hunterwood Technologies Ltd., 2018 CarswellAlta 249 (Alta. Prov. Ct.).

Cristina Wendel is an associate practicing labour and employment law with Dentons in Edmonton. She can be reached at (780) 423-7353 or cristina.wendel@dentons.com. Cristina's discussion of this case also appears in the Dentons blog www.occupationalhealthandsafetylaw.com.

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Comments (2)

Miss13/15/2018 11:56:09 PMHey, great case. Can you not disclose the company and the employee name?
Check the end of the article - Administrator08/17/2018 10:16:44 AMThe company name is in the case decision title at the end of the article.