A Supreme Court of Canada ruling now protects federally regulated companies from firing workers without cause. The Ontario government should follow suit for provincially regulated industries.
Linda Wang worked at a Toronto cosmetics manufacturer for four years. Then, two weeks after she asked her employer for extra pay she was owed for working a public holiday, she was fired. No reason was given for her termination.
That may appear unfair, but it’s perfectly legal. Under the law the company she worked at is entitled to fire workers without cause.
Indeed, under Ontario’s outdated 1968 Employment Standards Act not a single worker is protected from being dismissed without a stated reason.
That should change. And it will if the province follows the lead set recently by the Supreme Court of Canada.
After a six-and-a-half year battle that pitted Brampton’s Joseph Wilson against Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the court ruled that federally regulated employees, unionized or not, can only be terminated for just cause under the Canada Labour Code.
In Wilson’s case, he claimed he was unfairly terminated by AECL for exposing “improper” procurement practices at the Crown corporation. While the company offered him a six-month severance package, it maintained it did not have to give a justification for firing him.
The court, by a majority of 6 to 3, disagreed. Its ruling will now strengthen the rights of the half million non-unionized Canadian employees who work in federally regulated industries, such as banks, airlines and telecommunications. Employers will have to give a cause – such as misconduct or incompetence – before dismissing an employee.
That should set a precedent for provincially regulated companies, not to mention industries that are currently unregulated in Ontario such as farming, flower growing, fishing and accounting.
The Supreme Court ruling could not be timelier since Ontario is currently conducting consultations to update the Employment Standards Act. The Ministry of Labour says one of the complaints it heard about during hearings on how the act should be updated involved the unjust dismissal of workers. And the Workers’ Action Centre, an organization that advocates for fair employment, has asked the government not only to ensure workers are protected from wrongful dismissal, but to eliminate all occupational exemptions to the act.
An interim report on the review of the act is due in the next few weeks.
Whether or not it recommends that Ontario follow the Supreme Court’s lead and the action centre’s recommendations, the province should ensure that its updated version of the Employment Standards Act ensures that no employee from any industry can be unjustly fired.