What is the scope of damages in lieu of notice in a wrongful dismissal action?

Alberta, Canada


The following excerpt is from Mitchell v. Westburne Supply Alberta, 2000 ABQB 377 (CanLII):

The plaintiff asks for an increase in the calculation of damages in lieu of notice by extending the notice period by reason of the defendants’ unfair treatment of the plaintiff and the defendants’ bad faith in its manner of dismissing the plaintiff. The case of Wallace v. United Grain Growers, supra, is cited at paragraphs 98, 103 and 107 as follows: The obligation of good faith and fair dealing is incapable of precise definition. However, at a minimum, I believe that in the course of dismissal employers ought to be candid, reasonable, honest and forthright with their employees and should refrain from engaging in conduct that is unfair or is in bad faith by being, for example, untruthful, misleading or unduly insensitive. In order to illustrate possible breaches of this obligation, I refer now to some examples of the conduct over which the courts expressed their disapproval in the cases cited above. It has long been accepted that a dismissed employee is not entitled to compensation for injuries flowing from the fact of the dismissal itself: see e.g. Addis, supra. Thus, although the loss of a job is very often the cause of injured feelings and emotional upset, the law does not recognize these as compensable losses. However, where an employee can establish that an employer engaged in bad faith conduct or unfair dealing in the course of dismissal, injuries such as humiliation, embarrassment and damage to one’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem might all be worthy of compensation depending upon the circumstances of the case. In these situations, compensation does not flow from the fact of dismissal itself, but rather from the manner in which the dismissal was effected by the employer. In my view, there is no valid reason why the scope of compensable injuries in defamation situations should not be equally recognized in the context of wrongful dismissal from employment. The law should be mindful of the acute vulnerability of terminated employees and ensure their protection by encouraging proper conduct and preventing all injurious losses which might flow from acts of bad faith or unfair dealing on dismissal, both tangible and intangible. I note that there may be those who would say that this approach imposes an onerous obligation on employers. I would respond simply by saying that I fail to see how it can be onerous to treat people fairly, reasonably, and decently at a time of trauma and despair. In my view, the reasonable person would expect such treatment. So should the law.

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