Just Cause Dismissal in a Post-COVID World

In 2023, the courts have begun to address files that arose as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Employment law has seen a surge in discrimination and wrongful dismissal files surrounding masking and vaccine regulations. Buchanan v Weiss-Johnson Sheet Metal Ltd, 2023 ABCJ 207, is one such decision that provides valuable insight for employers seeking to impose just cause dismissal for mask policy violations.

In this decision, the plaintiff sued their employer for wrongful dismissal after being terminated for improperly wearing a mask while on company property. The defendant company argued that it was just cause dismissal due to the plaintiff’s mask violations.

The courts followed the reasoning of the Supreme Court in McKinley v BC Tel, and the Alberta Court of Appeal in Baker v Weyerhaeuser. In this decision the courts reasoned that the misconduct for just cause dismissal had to be sufficiently serious to give rise to the breakdown in an employment relationship.

In analyzing the plaintiff’s termination letter, the courts noted that it did not cite the law regarding masking, or a company masking policy. Further, the defendant did not produce specific City masking by-laws, Provincial policies, or Provincial mandates to prove what the law was at the date of termination. In addition, the defendant did not make clear to the plaintiff what the company masking policy was. Despite the defendant employing 250 people, there was no written masking policy. As a result of these procedural failures, the courts held that there was no just cause to dismiss the plaintiff. He was granted five months of pay in lieu of notice.

Counsel for employers must ensure that they are advising their clients of the importance of following the court’s reasoning in this decision if they are intending to rely on just cause dismissal in a post-covid world. For more information on the court’s reasoning in Buchanan v Weiss-Johnson Sheet Metal Ltd., read the complete decision here.

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