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Text messages discovered after employee terminated provided sufficient evidence that employer legally entitled to terminate the employee’s employment for cause

British Columbia

,

Canada

In Golob v Fort St. John (City), 2021 BCSC 2192, a Deputy Fire chief sued for wrongful dismissal of employment.

Background Facts

The employee was employed by the employer for 12 years. He was terminated on June 22, 2020. After a Lieutenant sent the Fire Chief an email reporting comments he overheard the employee making, the employer conducted an internal investigation. During the investigation, the employer did not interview the employee or give the employee a written warning.

The Investigation was Fundamentally Flawed

The parties conducting the investigation were overly focussed on maintaining harmonious relations with the union, such that they lost sight of the real issue, namely whether to terminate with or without cause. When they decided to terminate with cause, they had not yet identified misconduct on the part of the employee so serious that it warranted termination with cause (para 29).

The City terminated the employee without giving the employee an opportunity to respond to the allegations of what the City maintained was serious misconduct (para 30).

However, despite the finding that the investigation was flawed, such considerations are irrelevant to the core consideration of termination for cause (para 45).

After Acquired Evidence in Support of Cause Can Be Relied Upon

An employer may dismiss an employee, giving the wrong reasons, provided that causes which would justify dismissal did in fact exist at the time (para 47). The rude text messages sent by the employee were after-acquired evidence in support of cause, as distinct from after-acquired cause (para 49).

The text messages were simply further evidence, albeit compelling evidence, of the misconduct, alleged both at the time of dismissal and pleaded in the amended response to civil claim (para 50).

Termination for Cause Was Justified Based on the Employee’s Insolence

Insolence capture conduct that amounts to derisive or contemptuous language directed toward a superior (para 64).

The employee was found to have often referred to the Fire Chief in derogatory terms and openly questioned his education and qualifications. The words and actions of the employee had the inevitable effect of undermining the Fire Chief’s leadership and authority. In the context of an organization such as a fire department, a breakdown in the chain of command cannot be permitted (para 83).

The overall conduct of the employee, and in particular, the gross breach of his duty of loyalty to the City evinced by the text messages to another employee, constituted a fundamental breach of the employment agreement.

April 14, 2022
Golob v Fort St. John (City), 2021 BCSC 2192