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Employee’s right to damages (Raymond Giza v. Sechelt School Bus Service Ltd.)

Refusal to work during working notice period does not extinguish employee’s right to damages

In Raymond Giza v. Sechelt School Bus Service Ltd.[1], Randy Gould, the employer, Sechelt School Bus Service Ltd., employed Mr. Giza as a bus driver starting in September 2005. Over the course of the next 5 years, the employer grew disenchanted with Mr. Giza’s conduct and on September 30, 2009, about 5 years into his employment, terminated his employment without cause by giving him 5 weeks’ working notice under the Employment Standards Act. Mr. Giza, who was 61 years old at the time of the termination of his employment, did not take it well and decided not to return to work to serve his working notice. Instead, he commenced a wrongful dismissal action in the BC Supreme Court claiming, inter alia, damages for wrongful dismissal. While the Supreme Court found that 5 weeks’ notice was inadequate, the Court held that when Mr. Giza did not return to work to serve out his working notice, he repudiated the employment agreement and effectively quit and therefore, he was not entitled to damages for wrongful dismissal.

On appeal of the Trial decision by Mr. Giza, the Court of Appeal disagreed with the Trial Court’s conclusion that failing to work during the notice meant that Mr. Giza lost his entitlement to reasonable notice or damages in lieu thereof. Instead, the Court of Appeal reasoned that the employer breached its contract of employment with Mr. Giza when it gave him inadequate notice of termination. Relying on the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Hadcock v. Georgia Pacific Securites Corp[2], the Court of Appeal concluded that Mr. Giza’s right to damages in lieu of reasonable notice had accrued when he received inadequate notice by the employer. While Mr. Giza’s subsequent failure to work during the notice period amounted to a repudiation of his contract of employment and brought it to an end, the Court of Appeal said it did not take way or extinguish Mr. Giza’s cause of action for damages in lieu of notice. However, the Court of Appeal recognized the fairness of taking into account the notice, however inadequate, the employer provided Mr. Giza (during which he could have worked and been paid), and reduced that notice period from the 6 months reasonable notice the Court concluded Mr. Giza would otherwise be entitled to.

In this case the employer apparently mistook the appropriate notice Mr. Giza was entitled to as one delineated in the Employment Standards Act. It is important to note that unless an employer has a properly drafted employment contract restricting the employee’s entitlement to notice upon termination of employment to the minimum statutory notice provided in the Employment Standards Act, the employer will be exposed to a potential claim for common law reasonable notice, which indubitably far exceeds the minimum in the Employment Standards Act.

[1] 2012 BCCA 18

[2] [1999] 3 S.C.R. 425)

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