The employee brought a summary trial application for wrongful dismissal. The employer’s position was that the employee quit, and in the alternative, that it had just cause to terminate employment. The court determined that the employer had just cause to terminate the employee due to a derogatory email sent by the employee regarding his HR manager and a subordinate coworker (even though the email was discovered after the employee had already been terminated).
The employee worked for approximately 4 years as a manager for the employer. His responsibilities were outlined in the offer of employment, which included ensuring “…general harmonious relations with all depts, staff and client.”
On November 20, 2018, the employee sent an email to two coworkers that read “Hi guys – I am ASSuming that they want us to arrange pickup”. The email was brought to the attention of the employee’s supervisor, who then went to discuss the email with him. The employee became upset and said “I quit”, and left for the day. The employer changed the employee’s alarm pass code for the building to restrict his access, but did not ask for the return of the company laptop or keys, and the employee’s email access was not restricted. The employee showed up for work the next day and was later asked to leave.
Issue 1: Did the employee quit?
The court found that the employee did not intend to resign. The statement “I quit” was found to be an emotional and spontaneous outburst and did not demonstrate a true intention to resign. The employee was upset, left work late in the afternoon, did not return any company property in his possession, and returned to work the next day. The employee’s intention was not clear and unequivocal.
Issue 2: Did the employer have just cause for termination?
The court discussed several instances where subordinates and coworkers had complained about the employee’s behavior, which in one instance resulted in an official notice in the employee’s file. However, the court focused on an email sent by the employee on August 30, 2017 to a subordinate who he was also dating at the time. The August email was highly derogatory and insulted the HR manager as well as another subordinate employee he supervised. The email was discovered by the employer after the termination. The court reaffirmed that an employer can rely on after-discovered or after-acquired conduct as justifying or assisting to justify an initial dismissal.
The court gave no weight to the fact that the employee and the recipient of the email were in a dating relationship as it did not change the manager’s role and responsibilities. The court dismissed the employee’s claim and noted the following:
- The offer of employment made it clear that an essential condition of employment was helping to ensure “general harmonious relations” in the workplace.
- The August email was a breach of an essential condition of the employee’s contract of employment.
- The August email was critical, highly derogatory and insulting. This conduct was well beyond the scope of his duties and could only harm the employer.
- A manager serves to represent an organization including its values and principles. The August email was “antithetical”.
- A manager’s conduct and the effect on vulnerable subordinate employees, the workplace, and the employer’s reputation are important considerations.
- The August email was sent during business hours and over the employer’s corporate server. The email contained negative comments regarding the recipient’s coworkers.
“Standing alone, the after discovered August 30, 2017 email justifies the defendant’s termination of the plaintiff’s employment.” – Mr. Justice Funt
Implications for employers
This case is a reminder that an employee who says “I quit” will not always be deemed to have actually resigned from their employment. The case also reminds us that misconduct discovered after termination can assist an employer to support or justify termination for cause (“after-acquired cause”) and avoid paying severance.
A link to this case can be found here.