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On the Job - Pushor Mitchell's Employment Group

Cheeky note gets employee fired!

A tired Michigan BP gas station attendant who had just completed the night shift and wanted to go home put his boss on blast and lost his job as a result.

The employee was waiting for his manager to relieve him and she was an hour late because, she said later, she had slept through her alarm.

The employee locked up the store and went home, but not before taping a handwritten note to the inside of the glass doors of the gas station, where customers could see it. The note read:

“Hey boss, learn to be on time or at least communicate when you are going to be late. +1hr with no phone call is unacceptable. As you can see, the doors are locked. I went home. Fire me if you must, but realize I walked due to YOUR negligence. Joe”

Ironically, the note was posted right beside a Help Wanted sign in the gas station window. BP took Joe up on his offer to fire him.

Insubordination in the workplace can cost an employee his or her job in British Columbia too. However, termination of employment for cause (ie. without any notice or severance) does not usually occur because of a single insubordinate event, or due to words spoken in the heat of the moment. In most cases in British Columbia, verbal insubordination of a supervisor would give rise to a verbal or written warning or other form of discipline. But unless there is repeated insubordinate conduct, or disrespectful behaviour coupled with threats or actual violence this type of behaviour is unlikely to give the employer the right to fire an employee and not pay them any severance. But if the employer decides not to tolerate any insubordinate behaviour, the employer may simply elect to terminate the employment and pay the employee whatever severance he or she may be entitled to.


Article written by Joni Metherell


Top 5 employer pitfalls

If you are a small business or you are the head of human resources for your company, chances are you try to handle most employment matters on your own. From time to time you may contact the Employment Standards Branch for advice about things like overtime or vacation pay, or you may even research articles on the internet, but there are times when there is no substitute for good legal advice. In these situations I like to say that calling a lawyer is like buying insurance. Good advice from a lawyer who practices in the field of employment law helps eliminate risk to the company and in many cases will actually save the company money instead of costing it money. So, when should you really seek legal advice before taking action? Below is my list of the Top 5 Employer Pitfalls where legal advice could have saved an employer’s backside:

  1. Firing someone for cause.
  2. Firing someone on medical or maternity leave (regardless of the reason for firing).
  3. Firing someone and thinking you only have to pay them employment standards severance amounts (doing this without advice is particularly problematic for long-term employees, but also short-term, high salary employees).
  4. Making significant changes to an employee’s position or compensation scheme without the employee’s consent or cooperation.
  5. Hiring someone, particularly a high paid employee, without a proper written employment contract that limits the company’s obligations on termination and protects the best interests of the company (intellectual property, right to compete, right to solicit clients, etc.).

In each of the forgoing situations, if they are not handled correctly, they can result in legal action and significant financial cost to the company. Of course, these are not the only situations where it is a good idea to get legal advice. If you find yourself second guessing whether or not you are doing it right or you hold your breath and hope for the best, then it is probably a good idea to seek some advice before taking those next steps.


Author: Keri Thompson Grenier

*Important Note: The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.

Where there's no smoke

At this time there are no municipal bylaws or workers’ compensation regulations preventing the use of electronic cigarettes in the workplace. Does this mean that employers need to allow their employees to use these devices?

The short answer is no. An employer has the right to regulate the workplace and prescribe rules of conduct and appearance provided those rules do not offend against the protection afforded by legislation like the Human Rights Code. The Code’s object is to prevent discrimination on the basis of certain physical and cultural characteristics. There is no protection which would extend to smoking of electronic cigarettes.

There may be social considerations regarding the encouragement of tobacco smokers to convert to electronic cigarettes. In other words, some employers may encourage the use of these devices as a substitute for tobacco (by allowing them in break rooms), however, there is no legal obligation to do so.


Written by:  Alfred C. Kempf


Reference letters - employer obligation?

As an employment lawyer I am often asked, by both employers and employees, whether an employer is legally obligated to provide a dismissed or resigning employee a letter of reference. The short, simple answer is that in British Columbia, our courts have confirmed that an employer is not required to provide a reference letter. However, the answer is not always that simple. The following are a few considerations when it comes to assessing whether an employee should be provided with a letter of reference.

An employer that has a company policy of providing reference letters or has established a general practice of providing reference letters to departing employees, may inadvertently commit itself to providing a reference letter to employees who leave. If these are the circumstances of an employer, then the decision not to provide a reference letter to a particular employee may raise red flags and increase the chances that an employer will be required to pay compensation to an employee for bad faith conduct during the dismissal process (assuming a lawsuit has been commenced by an employee for wrongful dismissal, etc.).

If an employer decides not to provide a reference letter, they should be prepared to provide a reasonable explanation to the employee (and potentially a court) to justify its decision. Otherwise, the employer may be seen to be acting in bad faith, thus increasing exposure to liability to an employee.

Furthermore, an employer should be careful if attempting to make the availability of a severance letter conditional on the employee accepting a particular offer of severance. Even though a reference letter is not technically an obligation of the employer, making a reference letter available as a tool to coax an employee into accepting a particular severance offer may be be looked upon unfavourably by a court.

Providing a reference letter to an employee can increase the likelihood that the employment relationship will end on a positive note. This in turn may decrease the possibility of a dispute arising between the parties down the road, something that neither party ultimately wants to happen.


Article written by Greg Pratch

Read more On the Job articles


About the Author

Pushor Mitchell's Employment Group assists clients in meeting the challenges of today's workplace, including: hiring, firing, management, discipline, contracts, human rights, employment standards, privacy and many other related issues. In their column, the authors' provide practical and interesting information on employment law topics for both employers and employees.

The authors: Alfred Kempf, Greg Pratch, Joni Metherell, Keri Grenier, Mark Baron, and Mark Danielson.

Have an employment law topic you want to see addressed? Comments or suggestions are always welcome.

Email: [email protected]

Additional information available on our website: www.pushormitchell.com



The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.

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