Employment Termination Decision Upheld Despite Lack of Internal Investigation
By Jonathan Ablett | November 26, 2017
Watkins v. Willow Park Golf Course Ltd, 2017 ABQB
The issue of termination of employment for just cause was considered in this case by Justice Hollins of the Alberta Court of Queens Bench.
Interestingly, Justice Hollins, held that Watkins (the “Employee”) employment was terminated for just cause despite Willow Park Golf Course Ltd. (the “Employer”) not conducting an adequate investigation of the verbal and sexual harassment complaints received about the Employee from one of his direct subordinates. The Defendant maintained the conduct to be so egregious that it warranted summary termination without the need for investigation or the possibility of rehabilitation.
Justice Hollins said admission made by the Employee or allegations otherwise proven in the course of trial were sufficient to justify termination of employment and maintained that the results would have been no different if an adequate investigation would have taken place prior to termination.
There is no fixed rule as to when an employee’s conduct will justify a summary termination of employment. The proper analysis is a contextual one in which the Court assesses the degree of misconduct and the surrounding circumstances of its particular case. Determining whether misconduct in any particular case has reached a level to justify summary termination will always be fact-specific but even more so when the allegations of misconduct relate to verbal and sexual harassment. Summary dismissal will be justified when the impugned conduct violates an essential condition of the employment contract, is fundamentally or directly inconsistent with the employee’s obligations to his employer or destroys the mutual faith necessary for the employment relationship. There is no real legal debate that in cases of proven harassment of a subordinate, regardless of how serious, an employer is within its rights and arguably required to act. The only question is what type of discipline is justified in view of the circumstances, including the type, duration or nature of the harassment.
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