A BC employer has successfully defended a claim for constructive dismissal despite taking away supervisory duties and moving the employee from an office to a cubicle. The Meyers v. Chevron Canada Limited case is a welcome change from earlier cases we have discussed here (changing a bonus) and here (abusive workplace environment).
Meyers worked for Chevron in a number of positions since 1994. Some of the job changes were considered promotions while others were lateral moves, but he agreed to all of them. The last move was to a Business Analyst position when his former department was eliminated. He no longer supervised other employees and was not responsible for an operational budget. He took it as a demotion, resigned, and sued for constructive dismissal.
The Court decided there was not a “dramatic qualitative change“ in duties such that it could be considered a fundamental breach of the employment contract, noting that he retained significant leadership responsibilities as a project manager and responsibility for the projects budget. The Court also noted it may have been subjectively demeaning for Mr. Meyers to be moved from an office into a cubicle, but it was not objectively humiliating and degrading conduct.
The Court noted that an employer “requires some latitude to structure the affairs of its operation” and held that the parties had not intended the plaintiff’s management responsibilities to be rigidly defined. Mr. Meyers was “hasty” to resign before seeing whether the new position was an effective demotion.
Employers always have to be careful about making unilateral changes to terms of employment. But this decision suggests that courts will take a close look at the actual job duties and the objective reality, not just the subjective perception, of the changes. We can also hope that the courts will be reluctant to interfere with legitimate reorganizations of a company’s operations and only act on changes which truly go to the root of the employment contract.