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Notable Work

Employer wins in wrongful dismissal claim

Watkins v. Willow Park Golf Course Ltd

Employment contracts are common and necessary. But in some cases, the validity of an unwritten contract can come into question.

The plaintiff had been working for Willow Park Golf Course for 13 years with up to 37 employees under his supervision. Our client, the defendant, terminated the plaintiff with just cause on three grounds:

  • Verbal and sexual harassment of a subordinate
  • Insubordination
  • Other unprofessional behaviour

The plaintiff felt he was unfairly dismissed without cause and sued the defendant for wrongful dismissal.

Details

We provided evidence supporting the defendant's claim of harassment and insubordination by the plaintiff, justifying his termination. This was crucial as there is no fixed rule detailing when an employee’s conduct justifies a summary termination of employment. The court has to assess the degree of misconduct and the surrounding circumstances. Summary dismissal will be justified when conduct:

  • violates an essential condition of the employment contract;
  • is fundamentally or directly inconsistent with the employee’s obligations to his employer;
  • and destroys the mutual faith necessary for the employment relationship to continue

There is no hard and fast rule about whether an employer must issue a warning to an employee accused of harassment before terminating employment. In this case, the plaintiff’s behaviour towards the complainant in 2011 constituted verbal and sexual harassment of a type and level which was completely unacceptable in a professional workplace, and which demanded a response by the defendant.

Trial results

We successfully proved that the plaintiff’s behaviour was directly inconsistent with his obligations to manage his department professionally and ensure a safe and respectful workplace for his subordinates. It was also inconsistent with his obligation to protect his employer from potential lawsuits arising from this type of conduct. For all these reasons, the plaintiff’s conduct was incompatible with his continued employment and his termination was for just cause.

Read the full judgement.

 

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