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Banks are Federally regulated. Do you know your rights?

People who work for federally regulated companies have some rights that are similar to unionized workers without having to pay the union dues.  Banks are federally regulated.
 
If you are not in management and you have been there more than a year, you have the right not to be terminated without just cause. You have 90 days from the date of your termination to file an unjust dismissal complaint with the Canada Labour Board.
 
This process is not available if it’s a legitimate layoff as a result of a shortage of work or the elimination of your position. The onus will be on the employer to prove to an adjudicator that you did something so bad that your termination was justified. If they do not succeed, the adjudicator can order you reinstated with back pay or order damages that far exceed the usual pay in lieu of notice you would have been entitled to based on your seniority.
 
My experience is that banks like to pretend that this law does not exist. Often they succeed because the people who work in the banks aren’t aware of their rights or are often willing to take an enriched severance package rather than seek a reinstatement order.
 
Sometimes it seems like banks believe that everything is just cause. You may have been a perfectly good employee for 11 years with positive performance reviews but if they catch you inadvertently not following a proper procedure, they will call it just cause even though it was an innocent error that did not put a dime in your pocket.
 
I have seen cases where people have been fired for “just cause” because they used pre-signed and undated authorization forms that their boss told them to keep on file so that the client did not have to come in to sign something every time they called in with instructions.
 
The pressure within all banks to sell financial products is intense and increasing at all levels. Everyone from the teller to the loans officer, to the financial planner has a quota for how many referrals or sales they must make.
 
Imagine you have been working for the bank for 20 years and you are now a financial planner with the bank. You are a good employee, you have very little absenteeism, you have a great attitude and have always received good performance reviews.
 
Now, somebody has decided that you are not selling enough.  You have not brought enough investment into your branch. It doesn’t matter that that branch is in an economically depressed area. It doesn’t matter that you are accepting all of their coaching with respect to sales techniques and doing your best to achieve sales.
 
For the first time in 20 years you are being put on a performance improvement plan. You are being told that if your sales don’t increase significantly, there may be disciplinary action, up to and including termination.
 
Despite your best efforts, sales don’t increase and you get fired. Some banks are smart enough to know that they’re never going to get away with saying this is just cause and they’ll at least make you a severance offer. If they’re smart, they’ll make it a really good one so that you sign off and don’t file an unjust dismissal complaint. The last thing they want all their other financial planners to know is that they terminated somebody for having insufficient sales and an adjudicator ordered that person reinstated with back pay.
 
Banks get away with this behaviour because often people stand the thought of returning to a workplace where they had been treated so shabbily and are not wanted. They would rather get an enriched severance package and move on.
 
At the end of the day, it’s about culture. If bank workers in general become more aware of their rights and see others enforcing them, it won’t be such an embarrassing thing to go back to work after having been terminated.
 
As published in The Hamilton Spectator, December 12, 2012
 
Ed Canning
Ed Canning
P: 905.572.5809
ecanning@rossmcbride.com