The Ontario Superior Court has released a decision, Chopra v. Easy Plastic Containers Limited (Chopra), in which a cumulative series of acts of misconduct by an employee were found justify his termination for cause. The decision provides a useful precedent for employers seeking to rely on repeated incidents of misconduct or poor performance to establish just cause for an employee’s dismissal.
Chopra involved a shift supervisor who, over the course of roughly two years, was disciplined on a number of occasions for a variety of incidents including poor performance, serious misconduct, insubordination, incompetence, breach of company rules and conduct that was prejudicial to the employer’s business. The employee’s specific acts included, among other things, knowingly allowing unauthorized persons to enter restricted areas, allowing employees under his supervision to leave the premises without punching their time cards, falling asleep on the job, and refusing to wear personal protective equipment. Each of these incidents was documented by the employer and Mr. Chopra was provided with a series of verbal or written warnings in relation to his misconduct. During this time period, Mr. Chopra made complaints about safety conditions at the workplace to the Ministry of Labour which prompted site visits. He also reported to the employer that he was being harassed by his co-workers, prompting an internal investigation.
In or around this time, an employee reported to management that Mr. Chopra had asked him to help “build a case” against those he was accusing of harassment. The employee refused to do so as he had not witnessed such behavior. Three employees also reported to management that Mr. Chopra had told them that a Ministry of Labour representative investigating the workplace was a “rat” who was being paid off by the employer.
Following these reports, the employer made the decision to terminate Mr. Chopra for just cause, stating in its termination letter that he had conspired to make false allegations, engaged in harassing behaviour against senior management, made slanderous comments and created a poisonous work environment. Mr. Chopra then brought an action for wrongful dismissal, arguing that the employer did not have just cause and that his termination was a reprisal for bringing his complaint to the Ministry of Labour.
The court ultimately held that the various incidents of misconduct and poor performance at issue fell well below any reasonable standard of care. The court further found that the employer had given Mr. Chopra ample verbal and written warnings of its dissatisfaction with his performance and every opportunity to improve. In addition, Mr. Chopra’s problematic behavior was well documented by the employer and he was told he was required to correct it. Taken together, the cumulative incidents of misconduct were “not minor or trifling” and affected the workplace as a whole. The court held that Mr. Chopra’s performance, insubordination and misconduct amounted to enough “bricks” to constitute a “just cause wall.” The action against the employer was therefore dismissed.
Circumstances of accumulated misconduct can pose a challenge to employers because the incidents, taken in isolation, are often viewed as insufficient on their own to meet the high threshold of termination for cause. This case, however, demonstrates that where acts of misconduct or poor performance are documented by the employer, and followed by repeated warnings and failures to improve, the accumulation of such incidents may be sufficient to justify termination for cause.