Archive for the ‘Labour & Employment’ Category

Shafik Bhalloo
Tuesday, September 17th, 2013    Posted by Shafik Bhalloo (posts)
Shafik Bhalloo
Shafik Bhalloo has been a partner of Kornfeld LLP since 2000. His practice is focused on labour and employment law, and on commercial and civil litigation. He is also an Adjudicator on the Employment Standards Tribunal and an Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Business Administration at Simon Fraser University.

Employment Contracts and Fresh Consideration

By Shafik Bhalloo, Sasha Ramnarine, Devin Lucas

 

An essential element in the formation and enforceability of any contract is consideration. Each party receives a benefit from the contract and may suffer corresponding detriment. This benefit and detriment are referred to as consideration. Without it, a contract is not binding or enforceable.

Employment contracts are no exception to this rule. Without consideration, any employment contract that is formed between an employer and employee is not enforceable.  In today’s economy, many employers are involved in reorganizing or downsizing. This often leads to the employer unilaterally changing the terms of employment of an existing contract by adding significant duties or reducing compensation or other benefits. An employer may ask an employee to sign a new contract with introduce more restrictive terms which have not previously been discussed with the employee. The employee often agrees to these changes without much question. The issue that arises in such situations is whether unilateral changes to a contract of employment made by the employer after the employee has started employment are enforceable if there is no new consideration provided to the employee.

Courts in Canada have held that fresh consideration must be given by the employer to the employee in exchange for modified terms to an existing employment contract.  The following cases demonstrate this principle.

In Singh v. Empire Life Insurance Co.[1], the primary issue before the British Columbia Court of Appeal was whether or not the terms of an Employment Agreement were enforceable.  Harry Singh commenced work on September 1, 1998 as the Regional Manager for the Vancouver Bayshore.  At Mr. Singh’s request, a representative of the employer provided a letter of comfort dated September 1 to Mr. Singh.  The letter stated:

This is a Letter of Comfort stating that Harry Singh is offered the position of Regional Manager of Empire Financial Group with a total compensation package of $170,000 made up a number of components.  Effective September 1, 1998.  A formal letter and contract will follow.

Subsequently, Mr. Singh received another letter dated the same day under the heading “Re Confirmation of Offer – Regional Manager, Vancouver Bayshore”.  This letter confirmed specific details of Mr. Singh’s employment with respect to his salary and the fact that the initial term would be for 2 years.  Mr. Singh continued in that employment for five months before the Employment Agreement was executed.  This agreement contained a termination clause stating that “the termination will be effective at the end of the appropriate period of notice according to applicable provincial legislation”.  In November 2012, Mr. Singh’s position became redundant and he was let go.  Mr. Singh then commenced an action against the employer claiming damages for the remaining ten months in the two year term.  The employer argued that the contract was terminable on two weeks’ notice pursuant to the Employment Standards Act.

 

The Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s finding that the employer could not rely on the provisions of the subsequently signed agreement, which were less favourable to Mr. Singh than the terms of the original contract.  In so holding, the Court affirmed the leading British Columbia Court of Appeal decision of Watson v. Moore Corporation Ltd.[2]

 

In Watson, McEachern C.J.B.C., writing for the majority, found that unless the employer had a clear intention of terminating the employee’s employment prior to the employee executing the contract amendment, the mere forbearance from termination at this juncture was not adequate consideration for the amendment.

The Court of Appeal in Singh ultimately found that when the Employment Agreement was signed there was no benefit passing to Mr. Singh that he would not otherwise be entitled to.  As such, the contract was held to be unenforceable.

In the Ontario Court of Appeal case of Hobbs v TDI Canada Ltd.[3], the Plaintiff, Hobbs, was an experienced advertising salesperson who took a job with TDI Canada Ltd. (“TDI”). Prior to his start date, there was an oral agreement between Hobbs and TDI on the commission rates Hobbs was to receive. Shortly after Hobbs commenced his employment, he was given a non-negotiable Solicitor’s Agreement.  The Solicitor’s Agreement provided for a more restrictive commission rate than what was previously agreed to.  Further, the Solicitor’s Agreement allowed TDI to revise the commission rate at its sole discretion. Hobbs subsequently signed the document as he would otherwise not receive payment. As time passed, Hobbs was not paid the commissions that he believed were owed to him; therefore, he resigned from the company and sued TDI for the outstanding commissions.

The Ontario Court of Appeal considered the enforceability of the Solicitor’s Agreement. The Court of Appeal determined that the agreement did not form part of Hobbs’ employment contract for lack of consideration. As a result, the Court of Appeal ordered TDI to pay Hobbs the commissions he was owed based on the earlier oral agreement.  In reaching this decision, the appellate court reviewed a number of leading authorities on the requirement of consideration in employment contracts and stated:

[32] … [Francis v Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce] makes it clear the law does not permit employers to present employees with changed terms of employment, threaten to fire them if they do not agree to them, and rely on the continued employment relationships as the consideration for the new terms.

[35] In Techform Products Ltd., Rosenberg J.A. similarly recognized that new consideration is required in order to modify an existing employment contract. He stated at para. 24:

It is also consistent with the principle fundamental to consideration in the context of an employment contract amendment — that in return for the new promise received by the employer something must pass to the employee, beyond that to which the employee is entitled under the original contract. Continued employment represents nothing more of value flowing to the employee than under the original contract.

The Court of Appeal further addressed the power imbalance in employment relationships and the vulnerability of employees in relation to their employers at para. 42:

The requirement of consideration to support an amended agreement is especially            important in the employment context where, generally, there is inequality of         bargaining power between employees and employers. Some employees may enjoy             a measure of bargaining power when negotiating the terms of prospective       employment, but once they        have been hired and are dependent on the remuneration of the new job, they become     more vulnerable.

What do these cases mean for employers?

The above noted decisions clearly stand for the proposition that an amendment to a pre-existing employment contract will not be enforced unless there is an added benefit to both parties. A basic rule of thumb for employers to follow is to have an employee sign a contract that is suitable to the employer before the employee commences his or her employment.  Alternatively, it is critical when introducing new terms to a pre-existing employment contract that employers provide fresh consideration to the employee.  The lack of fresh consideration increases the risk that the modified terms of an employment contract will not be upheld by a court of law.

What would be considered adequate consideration?

There are no cases that outline a specific test to determine what constitutes adequate consideration when an employer modifies the terms of employment.  In Krieser v. Active Chemicals Ltd.[4], Neilson J. provides some guidance as to what would form adequate consideration in the employment context. At para. 35, Neilson J. stated:

I have found, however, that the defendant must show something more than continuation of the plaintiff’s employment on more onerous terms for an uncertain time to establish adequate consideration. Some additional advantage must flow to the plaintiff for agreeing to the new terms. I find that the defendant has failed to establish that here. There is nothing in the terms of the Contract that confers a benefit on the plaintiff. Nor do I see any basis for concluding that signing it provided him with any increased security of employment, either expressly or implicitly. The plaintiff remained a probationary employee under both the Contract and the Act, and could be dismissed with no notice during the first six months of his employment. While the Contract thereafter provided more generous notice provisions than the Act, these were less generous than his common law rights once several years of employment had been completed.

Neilson J. indicated that the consideration must be some ‘additional advantage’ moving to the employee.  Yet, it is unclear what this additional advantage must be.  In the writer’s view, the nature of this advantage would invariably depend on the type of position that is held by an employee.  Some advantages may include an increase of vacation pay, notice requirements, life insurance, severance pay, or health and dental benefits. The sufficiency of consideration is still an open question at this point; however, it is a significant issue that will likely have far reaching implications for employers and workers throughout Canada.


[1] 2002 BCCA 452.

[2] (1996), 21 B.C.L.R. (3d) 157.

[3] (2004), 246 D.L.R. (4th) 43.

[4] 2005 BCSC 1370.

 

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Posted by Shafik Bhalloo (posts) | Filed under Labour & Employment, Other | ....
Shafik Bhalloo
Tuesday, August 6th, 2013    Posted by Shafik Bhalloo (posts)
Shafik Bhalloo
Shafik Bhalloo has been a partner of Kornfeld LLP since 2000. His practice is focused on labour and employment law, and on commercial and civil litigation. He is also an Adjudicator on the Employment Standards Tribunal and an Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Business Administration at Simon Fraser University.

Limiting Common Law Notice in Employment Contracts

By Shafik Bhalloo and Devin Lucas

It is settled law in Canada that an employer may displace an employee’s right under the common law to reasonable notice of termination by contracting to a lesser notice or severance entitlement. However, the notice or severance period must meet the statutory notice requirements outlined in the applicable provincial employment standards legislation; otherwise it will be of no effect. In British Columbia for instance, Section 4 of the Employment Standards Act provides that the requirements of the Act are minimum requirements and any agreement to waive those requirements has no effect In Machtinger v. HOJ Industries Ltd.[1], where the employer had contracted to give its employees notice or severance below the minimum provided in the Ontario Employment Standards Act, the Supreme Court of Canada declared the provision null and void for all purposes and held that the provision could not be used to interpret the parties’ intentions with respect to notice entitlement upon termination. The Court then went on to conclude that the employees were entitled to reasonable notice because the presumption of reasonable notice was not rebutted. In so concluding, the Court reasoned that such a conclusion was consistent with the legislative intent of the Act which expressly preserved the civil remedies otherwise available to an employee against his or her employer and provided employers an incentive to comply with the minimum statutory provisions of the Act. Not only must the notice provision comply with the minimum applicable employment standards legislation, it must be drafted carefully if the employer is to successfully limit the common law notice. In British Columbia, in McLennan v. Apollo Forest Products Ltd.[2], the province’s Supreme Court considered a wrongful dismissal action brought by Marvin McLennan, a former “bin chaser” at a sawmill.  Part of Mr. McLennan’s employment contract was contained in an employee handbook.  The handbook contained the following termination provision:

The terms and conditions of employment at Apollo Forest Products Ltd. are in accordance with the Employment Standards Act and other legislation of the Province of British Columbia governing the Employer/Employee relationship in the workplace.

Upon being dismissed, Mr. McLennan brought a wrongful dismissal action against his employer arguing that he was entitled to common law severance pay.  In response, the employer argued that the two weeks’ pay that was provided as severance pay pursuant to the Employment Standards Act[3] was adequate.  The B.C. Supreme Court held that the express provisions of the contract did not restrict the notice to the minimum set out in the Employment Standards Act; therefore, making it necessary and appropriate for the Court to determine the reasonable notice period to which the employee was entitled at common law.

McLennan provides support for the proposition that an employment contract, which incorporates provisions of employment standards legislation by reference, will not be sufficient to provide the clarity of intention required to rebut the presumption that reasonable notice in accordance with the common law applies.  In order to do so, the contract would have to go further and clearly limit the reasonable notice period to the applicable statutory legislation.

Recommendations for Employers

It is recommended that employers, when attempting to limit common law notice or severance, do not violate the minimum provincial employment standards legislation. Where the employer is trying to limit the notice to the minimum in the employment standards legislation, it is recommended that the employer draft the limiting clause in very clear and unambiguous terms limiting to such statutory notice or payment in lieu of notice.


[1] [1992] 1 S.C.R. 986

[2] 1993 CarswellBC 1250.

[3] R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 113.

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Shafik Bhalloo
Monday, January 7th, 2013    Posted by Shafik Bhalloo (posts)
Shafik Bhalloo
Shafik Bhalloo has been a partner of Kornfeld LLP since 2000. His practice is focused on labour and employment law, and on commercial and civil litigation. He is also an Adjudicator on the Employment Standards Tribunal and an Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Business Administration at Simon Fraser University.

By Shafik Bhalloo

In a recent criminal decision, R. v. Cole[1], the Supreme Court of Canada provided much needed guidance on when an employee may reasonably expect  data stored on his work issued computer will be treated as private. In this case, a high school teacher, who also worked with the school’s IT department in supervising computer use by students and staff, had authority to remotely access the data stored on student computers connected to the school network and accessed a student’s email account. The teacher found nude photographs of another student and copied them onto the hard drive of his school-issued laptop. Under the school’s Acceptable Use Agreement (“UA”), the teacher was allowed to use his work-issued laptop for both work and personal purposes. When a technician employed by the school, while performing regular maintenance work on the teacher’s laptop, discovered a hidden folder on the teacher’s laptop containing the said photographs, he notified the school’s principal. Pursuant to the latter’s instructions, the technician copied the pictures to a compact disc. The principal, subsequently, seized the laptop and, thereafter, the technician copied, on a second compact disc, temporary internet files from the laptop. The laptop was then turned over to the police, together with the two discs. The police, without obtaining a search warrant in advance, examined the contents of the laptop and the two discs and created a mirror image of the laptop’s hard drive. The teacher was later charged with possession of child pornography.

At trial, the teacher applied and was successful under section 8 and subsection 24(2) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to have the evidence against him excluded on the basis that it was obtained in a manner violating his constitutional rights under the Charter. On appeal by the Crown, the Ontario High Court of Justice reversed the lower court’s decision, finding that the trial judge erred in law in concluding that Mr. Cole had an objectively reasonable subjective expectation of privacy stating that the judge erroneously ignored the following contextual factors:

  • The teacher’s acceptance of the employer’s UA as terms of his employment, which afforded him knowledge that the data and information on the computer and drives assigned to him by the employer were not private;
  • The teacher also worked with the school’s IT department staff to supervise and monitor both the computer use by students and staff of the high school and the overall integrity of the school’s network, and, in this supervisory capacity, the teacher had domain-wide privileges which demonstrated to him that the data on his computer drives was accessible by employer representatives such as himself;
  • In light of the first two points above, indicators such as the teacher’s password and his exclusive possession of the laptop as part of his employment were not privacy indicators;
  • The teacher’s knowledge that the hardware and software in and connected to the laptop belonged to the employer.

On appeal by the teacher, the Court of Appeal of Ontario set aside the latter decision in part holding that the disc containing the temporary internet files, the laptop and the mirror image of its hard drive should be excluded. The Court of Appeal reasoned as follows:

[76] … the fact that the discs and laptop in this case had been lawfully seized by the principal and the school board and delivered to the police does not affect the continuing privacy expectations of the appellant. Police are not relieved from the stringent standard of obtaining judicial authorization to conduct a search or seizure based on reasonable and probable grounds, simply because they are provided with evidence in circumstances where the accused’s Charter rights were either not engaged or were not infringed in the initial gathering of that evidence….

[77] …The appellant’s privacy interest with respect to his laptop continued throughout its transfer to police, notwithstanding that it was the property of the school board, and already lawfully seized by them. Personal information was also stored on the laptop.

The police conducted a search and seizure of the laptop and seized the mirror image of the hard drive, capturing every piece of personal information the appellant may have stored on it, including the photographs of his wife, without a warrant.

[78] The appellant also had a privacy interest in his personal internet browsing history and what it revealed about his personal predilections and choices. In R. v. Morelli, 2010 SCC 8 (CanLII), [2010] 1 S.C.R. 253, at para. 3, the Supreme Court referred to this as ‘the electronic roadmap of your cybernetic peregrinations, where you have been and what you appear to have seen on the Internet’. Because the appellant had a continuing privacy interest in this information, the transfer of the disc with the temporary internet files to the police was a ‘seizure’ within the meaning of s. 8 of the Charter.

[79] The police search of the laptop and the disc with the temporary internet files is therefore prima facie unreasonable. The onus shifts to the Crown to establish that this warrantless search by police was nonetheless reasonable. There were no exigent circumstances. Both the school environment and the evidence were secure; the teacher was suspended and the police were in possession of the discs and the laptop. The school board had no authority to consent to the search. This warrantless search was not reasonable. Therefore, the police violated the appellant’s s. 8 rights when they searched the laptop and the disc with the temporary internet files.

However, the Court of Appeal viewed the disc containing images of the student differently, stating:

Given that the photographs were taken from the school’s network, using the school’s computer and were the subject of the privacy interest of a student, the appellant had no personal privacy interest in the data. The photographs were found by the technician in plain view, while engaged in permissible access. They were lawfully seized by the principal and transferred to police. As the functional equivalent of photographs in an envelope, the police did not need to conduct a further search of this evidence. Because the appellant had no privacy interest in the photographs themselves (as opposed to the presence of those photographs in the laptop), the delivery of the disc to police was not a seizure.

On Appeal by the Crown, the Supreme Court of Canada, while agreeing with the Court of Appeal that the teacher had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the circumstances and the police infringed the teacher’s privacy protected under section 8 of the Charter, allowed the appeal and set aside the decision of the Court of Appeal. In arriving at this conclusion, Mr. Justice Fish, writing for the majority of the Supreme Court, delineated the following instructive principles:

  • Whether at home or in the workplace, computers are reasonably used for personal purpose and contain information that is meaningful, intimate and touching on the user’s biographical core;
  • The user may reasonably expect privacy in the information contained on their computer particularly where personal use is permitted or reasonably expected;
  • While ownership of the computer and workplace policies are relevant considerations, neither is determinative of a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy;
  • The totality of all the circumstances will need to be considered to determine whether privacy is a reasonable expectation in any particular case;
  • Workplace policies and practices may diminish an individual’s expectation of privacy in a work computer; however they may not in themselves remove the expectation entirely;
  • A reasonable, though diminished expectation of privacy, is nonetheless a reasonable expectation of privacy, protected by s. 8 of the Charter and subject only to state intrusion under the authority of a reasonable law.

Applying the above principles to the facts in this case, Fish J. stated the operational realities of the teacher’s workplace consisted of factors that pulled in competing directions. In particular, Fish J. noted that while the written policy, and actual practice at work, permitted the teacher to use his work-issued laptop for personal purpose, the policy and technological reality deprived him of exclusive control and access to the personal information he recorded on the laptop. More particularly, Fish J. noted that the written policy of the school, of which the teacher was reminded by the principal annually, provided that the data and messages generated on or handled by the employer’s equipment was owned by the employer and he was aware that the contents of his hard drive were available to all other users and technicians with domain administration right. On the totality of the circumstances, Fish J. concluded that the teacher had a reasonable subjective expectation of privacy in his internet browsing history and the informational content of his work-issued laptop; it contained information that was meaningful, intimate and touching on his biographical core.

Having said this, however, the Supreme Court did not find the school to have acted unreasonably or in breach of s. 8 of the Charter when its technician inspected the teacher’s laptop in context of routine inspection or when the school subsequently seized the laptop at the instruction of the principal because the school’s principal had a statutory duty to maintain a safe school environment. However, the school’s lawful authority did not afford the police lawful authority to conduct a warrantless search and seizure of the computer material and examine its contents, according to the Supreme Court. In particular, Fish J. reasoned:

[67] In taking possession of the computer material and examining its contents, the police acted independently of the school board (R. v. Colarusso, 1994 CanLII 134 (SCC), [1994] 1 S.C.R. 20, at pp. 58-60). The fact that the school board had acquired lawful possession of the laptop for its own administrative purposes did not vest in the police a delegated or derivative power to appropriate and search the computer for the purposes of a criminal investigation.

[73] The school board was, of course, legally entitled to inform the police of its discovery of contraband on the laptop. This would doubtless have permitted the police to obtain a warrant to search the computer for the contraband. But receipt of the computer from the school board did not afford the police warrantless access to the personal information contained within it. This information remained subject, at all relevant times, to Mr. Cole’s reasonable and subsisting expectation of privacy.

Having found that the police breached the teacher’s privacy rights under section 8 of the Charter, Fish J. embarked on an inquiry under s. 24(2) of the Charter, namely, whether the unconstitutionally-obtained evidence by the police should be excluded. Here, Fish J. considered a three-part balancing test set out in the Supreme Court’s decision in R. v. Grant[2]. In particular, Fish J. considered (i) the seriousness of the Charter-infringing conduct of the police; (ii) the impact of the breach on the Charter-protected interest of the teacher; and (iii) the society’s interest in the adjudication of the case on its merits. In setting aside the decision of the Court of Appeal and allowing the unconstitutionally-obtained evidence, Fish J. stated with respect to the first part of the Grant test:

[84] Regarding the seriousness of the Charter-infringing conduct, the courts below focused on the actions of Detective Constable Timothy Burtt, the officer who took possession of the computer material, who searched the discs, and who sent the laptop away for forensic examination. The trial judge concluded that this officer’s actions were ‘egregious’ (para. 26), and the Court of Appeal considered his conduct serious enough to favour exclusion.

[85] I am unable to share either conclusion.

[86] The police officer did not knowingly or deliberately disregard the warrant requirement. As events were unfolding in this case, the law governing privacy expectations in work computers was still unsettled. Without the guidance of appellate case law, D.C. Burtt believed, erroneously but understandably, that he had the power to search without a warrant.

[87] He did not act negligently or in bad faith. Nor does his conduct evidence insensitivity to Charter values, or an unacceptable ignorance of Mr. Cole’s rights under the Charter. The officer did not rely exclusively, as the courts below suggested, on his mistaken belief that the ownership of the laptop was necessarily determinative. While this was an important factor underlying his decision not to obtain a search warrant, the officer also turned his mind to whether Mr. Cole had an expectation of privacy in the laptop (p. 130). He was alert to the possibility that the hard drive contained private or privileged material (pp. 130-31 and 164). And he testified that he intended to respect Mr. Cole’s privacy interest in this regard (p. 131).

[89] …Where a police officer could have acted constitutionally but did not, this might indicate that the officer adopted a casual attitude toward — or, still worse, deliberately flouted — the individual’s Charter rights (Buhay, at paras. 63-64). But that is not this case: The officer, as mentioned earlier, appears to have sincerely, though erroneously, considered Mr. Cole’s Charter interests.

[90] Accordingly, in my view, the trial judge’s finding of ‘egregious’ conduct was tainted by clear and determinative error (Côté, at para. 51). On the undisputed evidence, the conduct of the officer was simply not an egregious breach of the Charter. As earlier seen, the officer did attach great importance to the school board’s ownership of the laptop, but not to the exclusion of other considerations. He did not ‘confuse ownership of hardware with privacy in the contents of software’ (trial reasons, para. 29).

With respect to the second part of the Grant test, Fish J. stated:

[91] Turning then to the impact of the breach on Mr. Cole’s Charter-protected interests, the question relates to ‘the extent to which the breach actually undermined the interests protected by the right infringed’ (Grant, at para. 76). In the context of a s. 8 breach, as here, the focus is on the magnitude or intensity of the individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy, and on whether the search demeaned his or her dignity (R. v. Belnavis, 1997 CanLII 320 (SCC), [1997] 3 S.C.R. 341, at para. 40; Grant, at para. 78).

[92] In his s. 24(2)analysis, the trial judge neglected entirely to consider the diminished nature of Mr. Cole’s reasonable expectation of privacy. Likewise, the Court of Appeal overlooked the fact that the operational realities of Mr. Cole’s workplace attenuated the effect of the breach on his Charter-protected interests.

[93] Moreover, the courts below failed to consider the impact of the ‘discoverability’ of the computer evidence on the second Grant inquiry. As earlier noted, the officer had reasonable and probable grounds to obtain a warrant. Had he complied with the applicable constitutional requirements, the evidence would necessarily have been discovered. This further attenuated the impact of the breach on Mr. Cole’s Charter-protected interests (Côté, at para. 72).

Finally, with respect to the third part of the Grant test, Fish J. stated:

Finally, I turn to the third Grant inquiry: society’s interest in an adjudication on the merits. The question is ‘whether the truth-seeking function of the criminal trial process would be better served by admission of the evidence, or by its exclusion’ (Grant, at para. 79).

[95] Not unlike the the considerations under the first and second inquiries, the considerations under this third inquiry must not be permitted to overwhelm the s. 24(2) analysis (Côté, at para. 48; R. v. Harrison, 2009 SCC 34 (CanLII), 2009 SCC 34, [2009] 2 S.C.R. 494, at para. 40). They are nonetheless entitled to appropriate weight and, in the circumstances of this case, they clearly weigh against exclusion of the evidence.

[96] The laptop, the mirror image of its hard drive, and the disc containing Mr. Cole’s temporary Internet files are all highly reliable and probative physical evidence. And while excluding it would not “gut” the prosecution entirely, I accept the Crown’s submission that the forensic examination of the laptop, at least, is “critical”: the metadata on the laptop may allow the Crown to establish, for example, when the photographs were downloaded and whether they have ever been accessed.

[97] In sum, the admission of the evidence would not bring the administration of justice into disrepute. The breach was not high on the scale of seriousness, and its impact was attenuated by both the diminished privacy interest and the discoverability of the evidence. The exclusion of the material would, however, have a marked negative impact on the truth-seeking function of the criminal trial process.

For the above reasons, Fish J. did not exclude the evidence unlawfully obtained by the police.

While the case is a criminal one and engages an individual’s privacy rights under s. 8 of the Charter since it involves state (police) intrusion of an individual’s privacy rights, the privacy principles articulated by Fish J. will undoubtedly be considered by courts in future employment law cases and employers should be mindful of those principles in structuring their relationship with their employees.

It is recommended that employers should implement clear policies that define, in unequivocal terms, the employer’s expectations surrounding workplace computer use, including smartphone use, if employers provide such equipment to employees in an employment context. Although Fish J., in R. v. Cole, stated that workplace policies are not determinative of a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy, if properly drafted a workplace policy combined with consistent employer actions in the workplace, may diminish, objectively, the employee’s reasonable expectation of privacy. For example, where both the employer’s workplace policy and the employer’s actions in the workplace are consistent in prohibiting any personal use by employees of employer-issued computers or smartphones and where the employee has acknowledge receipt of employer’s policy that provides that any data sent, stored or received using the employer’s computer or smartphone is the property of the employer and the employer reserves the right to perform random checks or audits of the employee’s computer or smartphone use, the employee may be hard pressed to argue that he or she has a reasonable expectation of privacy.


[1] 2012 SCC 53

[2] 2009 SCC 32

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Shafik Bhalloo
Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012    Posted by Shafik Bhalloo (posts)
Shafik Bhalloo
Shafik Bhalloo has been a partner of Kornfeld LLP since 2000. His practice is focused on labour and employment law, and on commercial and civil litigation. He is also an Adjudicator on the Employment Standards Tribunal and an Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Business Administration at Simon Fraser University.

 By Devin Lucas and Shafik Bhalloo

In Globex Foreign Exchange Corporation v. Kelcher[1], three employees, David Kelcher, Mark MacLean, and Luciano Oliverio entered into employment contracts with Globex Foreign Exchange Corporation, a business engaged in foreign currency exchange. In 2003, each employee signed a non-competition and non-solicitation agreement comprising restrictive covenants.  MacLean agreed to the restrictions as part of his initial employment. Both Kelcher and Oliverio agreed to the restrictions during their employment, but did not receive any additional benefits as a result. In March 2005, the three employees were asked to sign more burdensome non-competition and non-solicitation restrictive covenants.  Objecting to these new restrictive covenants, Kelcher resigned and MacLean was fired.  Oliverio signed the new agreement, but resigned shortly thereafter. All three employees joined a rival firm.  In April 2005, Globex filed suit, claiming damages from loss of clients.

The Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench ruled against Globex and held that MacLean had been wrongfully dimissed and was therefore relieved of the restrictive covenants he had consented to.  Further, the Court found that the restrictive covenants were unenforceable as against Kelcher and Oliverio for want of consideration, as the agreements were signed by both employees during the course of their employment, but had received nothing in return.  The Court found that consideration could be present in instances where there is mutual understanding between employer and employee that the employer will not exercise its right to lawfully terminate the employment if the employee agrees to the restrictive covenant; however, the Court found that such mutual understanding did not exist in this case. If such consideration had been present, the Court held that only Kelcher’s non-solicitation clause would have been enforceable because Oliverio’s non-solicitation clause was overly broad and thus unenforceable.

Globex appealed the decision to the Alberta Court of Appeal.  Madam Justice Hunt, writing for the majority, dismissed Globex’s appeal. In so holding, Madam Justice Hunt affirmed the trial court’s ruling that the wrongful dismissal of an employee will render that employee’s restrictive covenants unenforceable. 

Madam Justice Hunt provided a number of legitimate reasons for this longstanding principle of employment law.  The Court said:

Most particularly, to hold otherwise would reward employers for mistreating their employees. For example, an employer could hire a potential competitor, impose a restrictive covenant on the employee, then wrongfully dismiss her a short time later and take advantage of the restrictive covenant. This would be a highly effective, but manifestly unfair, way of reducing competition. A second justification (alluded to by Simon Brown L.J. in Rock Refrigeration) may be that enforcing a restrictive covenant in the face of wrongful termination prima facie negates the consideration (whether continued employment or something else) given by the employer to the employee when she accepted the restrictive covenant.

Madam Justice Hunt also affirmed the trial court’s conclusion that some fresh consideration must be provided by the employer when employees accept restrictive covenants during their employment.

In order for an employer to validly enforce a restrictive covenant against a departing employee, the Alberta Court of Appeal held that three criteria would have to be met.  First, the restrictive covenant has to be reasonable with respect to the geographic scope, length of time and the activity that is restricted.  Second, an employee must be dismissed either with cause or notice or, alternatively, the employee must have resigned. Third, if the employer imposes a more stringent restrictive covenant during the course of employment, the employer must provide fresh consideration such as a raise or bonus. Alternatively, there must be some understanding that the employment would continue as a result of the employee agreeing to the addition or amendment of the restrictive covenant.

This case provides a useful guide with respect to the factors a court will look at when determining the enforceability of restrictive covenants in employment agreements.


[1] 2011 ABCA 240

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Shafik Bhalloo
Tuesday, October 9th, 2012    Posted by Shafik Bhalloo (posts)
Shafik Bhalloo
Shafik Bhalloo has been a partner of Kornfeld LLP since 2000. His practice is focused on labour and employment law, and on commercial and civil litigation. He is also an Adjudicator on the Employment Standards Tribunal and an Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Business Administration at Simon Fraser University.

*By Devin Lucas and Shafik Bhalloo

In Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP v. British Columbia (Human Rights Tribunal)[1], the equity partner, John Michael McCormick, entered into a partnership agreement with Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, an international law firm operating as an extra-provincial limited liability partnership registered pursuant to the Partnership Act of British Columbia. Under this agreement, which governs the relationship of all of Fasken’s partners, McCormick was required to retire as an equity partner on January 31, 2011, the financial year end of the firm in which he turned 65.

The partnership agreement provided at section 9.2:

(a) Each Equity Partner shall retire as an Equity Partner at the end of the Year in which the Partner reaches the age of 65, but as provided in paragraphs (d) and (e) of this Section 9.2 may be permitted to continue working with the Firm.

(b) A Partner who retires from the Firm shall be deemed to have withdrawn from the Firm as at the date of his or her retirement, which date shall be his or her date of withdrawal.

(c) Upon reaching the age of 62, each Partner shall prepare and deliver to the Firm Managing Partner a practice transition plan.

(d) Agreements for working past age 65 are at the discretion of the firm Managing Partner and will be the exception rather than the rule. The criteria for approval shall include the value of the individual in coaching, business development, client relations, mentoring and community profile. Such agreements shall either be approved by the Board or be within any written policy established by the Board for this purpose.

(e) Partners who wish to continue in the practice of law with the Firm after age 65 may enter into an individual arrangement with the Firm as an employee or a Regular Partner as determined by the Firm Managing Partner and, if the Firm Managing Partner so decides, such individual may have the title of “Counsel” to the Firm. The Firm Managing Partner may at any time on three months’ prior written notice revoke, in his or her discretion, the right of such individual to continue in the practice of law with the Firm, whether as employee or Regular Partner, or to be Counsel to the Firm.

In December 2009, McCormick filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal alleging that Fasken discriminated against him by forcing his retirement as an equity partner in 2011, contrary to s. 13 of the Human Rights Code of British Columbia.

In response, Fasken brought an application to dismiss the complaint pursuant to ss. 27(1)(a) and (c) of the Code, on the basis that that the Tribunal did not have jurisdiction to hear the complaint and there was no reasonable prospect that it would succeed.  The root of Fasken’s argument was that McCormick was not an employee of the firm and there was no employment relationship that could be the subject of a complaint under s. 13.

The Tribunal ruled against Fasken stating that it had jurisdiction over the complaint on the ground that the firm, for the purpose of the Code, employed McCormick.  According to the Tribunal, in the context of human rights legislation, a partnership may be considered as a separate legal entity from its partners and as the employer of a partner.

Fasken appealed the decision to the British Columbia Supreme Court claiming that the Tribunal did not have jurisdiction to hear the complaint, since in law a partnership is not a separate entity from its partners, and cannot in law employ a partner.  The chambers judge upheld the Tribunal’s ruling. The chambers judge held that that the governance and management system of the firm met the criteria of an employment relationship for purposes of the Code, applying factors of “utilization”, “control”, “financial burden” and “remedial purpose” as held in Crane v. British Columbia (Ministry of Health Services).[2]

Once again, Fasken appealed the decision to the British Columbia Court of Appeal.  The Court of Appeal in reversing the Tribunal and chamber’s judge decisions stated:

…the principles of interpretation of the Human Rights Code, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 210, which mandate a broad, liberal approach consistent with its remedial purposes, do not change underlying legal relationships to the extent found by the Tribunal and the chambers judge.  In particular, they do not extend to overriding the fundamental and well-established principle of law that a partnership is not, in law, a separate entity from, but is a collective of, its partners, and as such, cannot, in law, be an employer of a partner.

The Court of Appeal also observed that a partnership may employ other persons and, in those employment relationships, it normally makes no legal or commercial difference whether the partnership is seen as a separate body or a collective of the partners.  According to the Court of Appeal, third parties, including employees of the partnership, are generally entitled to the same rights and obligations as against a partnership as they are against a corporation or a proprietorship, including protection from discriminatory employment practices. The court then drew the distinction between that of an employer-employee relationship and the relationship among all of the partners.  The Court said:

In this case, one of the supposed parties to the relationship, the firm, while a “person” for the purpose of the Code, is not separate from any individual equity partner such as Mr. McCormick.  The only relationship that exists, in law and in fact, is among Mr. McCormick and all of the other partners of the firm. And the relationship among them cannot be one of employer and employee, as they are all equal in their rights and obligations with respect to the business of the firm.

It is important to note that McCormick was one of approximately 60 full-equity partners at Fasken. McCormick has an ownership interest in the firm; therefore, he is entitled to a share of the profits of the firm and is personally liable for its debts. Further, he is permitted to participate in the meetings of the partners and to vote on various issues affecting the firm’s management. Conversely, employees do not enjoy any of these rights or obligations.

It remains to be seen, however, whether or not a partnership would be considered as a legal entity distinct from its non-equity partners for the purposes of human rights legislation?  If a partnership may be treated as a separate legal entity from its non-equity partners, does it then follow that a non-equity partner is an employee of a partnership, which purportedly, he or she is a member?  Applying the factual criteria of “utilization”, “control”, “financial burden”, or “remedial purpose” from Crane would appear to affect equity partners differently than non-equity partners.  The crux of this distinction is whether the controls exercised by the firm’s management apply equally to all of the partners.  If the controls are applied differently based on whether a partner is an equity or non-equity partner, it stands to reason that this would vary the relationship from one of partners collectively running a business to one of employment by equity partners over non-equity partners.  This is still an open question at this point; however, it is an interesting issue that could have wide-ranging implications for partnerships and non-equity partners reaching the age of mandatory retirement.


[1] 2012 BCCA 313

 

[2] 2005 BCHRT 361, rev’d on other grounds, 2007 BCSC 460.

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Posted by Shafik Bhalloo (posts) | Filed under Labour & Employment, Litigation and ADR | ....