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Your actions outside of the office could affect your employment status

An employee of Hydro One is reportedly out of a job. His employer took exception to the fact that he lewdly and crudely interrupted an on-air journalist who then confronted and challenged he and his friend, Tweedledummer.
 
Inevitably the question is asked, can non-criminal behaviour on your own time justify a termination?
 
At the end of the day, that’s the wrong question. Who says a termination has to be justified? The law is and has been for a very long time that if you are not in a union no reason for the termination is required. The employer does not have to have a good reason or any reason at all.
 
Too often, people get confused between unionized environments and non-unionized environments. If this Hydro One employee had been in a union, he would no doubt grieve his dismissal and very likely be ordered reinstated with back-pay. At most, the arbitrator would likely impose an unpaid suspension for some period of time. He did not occupy a sufficiently public position so as to persuade an arbitrator that his termination was justified. A second chance would be called for. But this employee, like most in this province, was not in a union.
 
If there is just cause for the termination the employee gets no severance package. If there’s not just cause, pay in lieu of notice is owed.
 
An employer only has to “justify” the termination if they want to avoid paying severance.
 
If you do something sufficiently heinous or repulsive that your employer simply does not want to see your face anymore, there is a good chance they will fire you even if they have to pay you some money to do it. When the severance is used up, you are still out of a job.
 
The individual who has lost his job at Hydro One was an assistant work management engineer making over $100,000 a year. While he obviously held a responsible position within the organization he would not exactly be the face of the company. If Hydro One resists paying him severance, it will have to prove to a judge that the incident so seriously damaged its reputation or affected the workplace that it had a right to terminate the employee without notice. It would be an interesting fight in a courtroom.
 
On the one hand, the individual was not advertising himself as a Hydro One employee and it was only somebody else’s research that disclosed that fact. On the other hand, Hydro One could argue that other employees found his behaviour repulsive and shouldn’t be expected to have to work with him.
 
Given his brutally misogynist public statements, his behaviour in the workplace might come into the picture. Was this an out-of-character anomalous piece of idiocy? Is the employee otherwise a model of professionalism and respect to all genders in the workplace? Or does this behaviour corroborate the suspicion already held by the employer that he was trouble waiting to happen? Was this a short-service employee or somebody who had rendered years of loyal service and might be said to deserve a second chance if he was appropriately contrite?
 
Chances are Hydro One will settle this matter out of court but the employee is still out of a job and there is a lesson to be learned from that fact. It’s nice to get a severance package but after it runs out the mortgage still has to be paid. This employee is going to face a huge challenge in finding new employment. His name can now be easily googled and his behaviour scrutinized. Getting a severance package is probably the least of his worries.
 
 
Ed Canning practices labour and employment law with Ross & McBride LLP, in Hamilton, representing both employers and employees. You can email him at ecanning@rossmcbride.com.
 
Ed Canning
Ed Canning
P: 905.572.5809
ecanning@rossmcbride.com