Each year, while updating Just Cause: The Law of Summary Dismissal in Canada, at least one new judgment stands out for me — either because of the employer's skill in handling a challenging situation, or because of the nature or extent of the employee's misconduct. The recent Ontario Court case, Chopra v. Easy Plastic Containers (ON, 2014) is noteworthy for both reasons.
Mr. Chopra was originally hired as a labourer by Easy Plastic in 2001, and was promoted to shift supervisor (nights) in 2005. Over the period 2007-2009, Mr. Chopra was issued 6 written warnings, the last of which included a 3-day suspension: 1 — Chopra permitted an unauthorized person to enter a restricted area; 2 — Chopra allowed three employees to leave work early; 3 — Chopra approved a full skid of deficient product; 4 — Chopra fell asleep at work (written warning and reassigned to the day shift); 5 — Chopra's poor performance (ignoring instructions) resulted in two hours of wasted production; 6 — Chopra ignored repeated instructions to wear a face mask, as personal protective equipment. In addition, Mr. Chopra received a verbal warning for winking at and touching a co-worker (on her hand).
Meanwhile, Mr. Chopra approached a co-worker in the Men's Room to solicit his help in building a case of harassment against supervisors, and Mr. Chopra told another co-worker that the Ministry of Labour officer, who investigated his various unsubstantiated complaints, was a “rat” who had been paid off by Easy Plastic. Mr. Chopra's safety complaints to the Ministry resulted in at least 3 MOL visits to Easy Plastic; he alleged that his termination was a reprisal for bringing these concerns to the attention of the MOL.
Referring to the doctrine of cumulative cause, the Ontario Court concluded that there was just cause to terminate Mr. Chopra's employment because Easy Plastic had given him ample verbal and written warnings about poor performance and misconduct, the cumulative effect being serious and prejudicial (indeed, in at least one instance, intended to harm Easy Plastic).
Quoting our late former partner, and my Just Cause co-author, Justice Randy Echlin, the Court held that, "The conclusion that must be drawn in this instance is that the series of acts cumulatively do amount to enough 'bricks to constitute a just cause wall.'"
Apparently, Easy Legal's patience and effective use of discipline, not to mention forbearance in the face of an employee's repeated involvement of the MOL in unsubstantiated allegations of safety hazards, allowed Mr. Chopra to, shall we say, build his own "just cause wall".