Archive for the ‘Other’ Category

Shafik Bhalloo
Monday, September 29th, 2014    Posted by Shafik Bhalloo (posts) and Alisha Parmar (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.
Alisha Parmar
Alisha comes to Kornfeld LLP from University of British Columbia as an Articling Student. Her primary area of interest lies in: general corporate commercial law.

 

INTRODUCTION

In today’s workplace, privacy is an evolving issue and Canadian privacy law is developing rapidly. Perhaps surprisingly, only a handful of Canadian jurisdictions, (including British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Newfoundland) have privacy legislation that creates a statutory tort or civil right of action for invasion of privacy. Until recently, most Canadian jurisdictions could only rely on legislative schemes that applied in very specific contexts – there was no general remedy for an invasion of privacy, unless the claimant managed to successfully establish the existence of a common law right to bring a civil action.

That changed when the common law tort of invasion of privacy was given teeth by the Ontario Court of Appeal in Jones v Tsige, 2012 ONCA 32 (“Jones”), wherein the Court definitively recognized the common law cause of action for intrusion upon seclusion. In Jones, the tort of intrusion upon seclusion enabled the plaintiff to recover not insignificant damages for the invasion of her privacy where no legislative scheme applied and where she had suffered no pecuniary loss.

But the bite of Jones and the tort of intrusion upon seclusion do not stop there. This year, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice relied on Jones to certify a class action proceeding against an employer for, inter alia, vicarious liability of an employee’s tort of intrusion upon seclusion. While the case, Evans v The Bank of Nova Scotia, 2014 ONSC 2135 (“Evans”), has yet to proceed to trial, the decision is one to watch out for. Whether or not the employer is ultimately found liable for the employee’s breach of privacy, Evans serves as a reminder that the law around breach of privacy is progressing swiftly and that employers must keep up.

JONES V TSIGE

The Facts

The plaintiff, Ms. Jones, and the defendant, Ms. Tsige, were both employees of the Bank of Montreal (“BMO”). Another coincidental common factor was that Ms. Jones’ former husband had formed a common law relationship with Ms. Tsige. However, Ms. Jones and Ms. Tsige did not know each other, and they worked at different branches of the BMO in different positions.

By virtue of her position with the BMO, Ms. Tsige had access to Ms. Jones’ personal information, and on at least 174 occasions, using her computer at her workplace, Ms. Tsige did in fact access Ms. Jones personal information. The information included Ms. Jones’ date of birth, marital status, language spoken, residential address, and details of her financial transactions in her personal accounts with the BMO.

The BMO discovered Ms. Tsige’s activities and confronted her. Ms. Tsige admitted to the BMO that she had no legitimate reason for accessing Ms. Jones’ personal information. Instead, Ms. Tsige explained she had been accessing Ms. Jones’ information since she was in a financial dispute with her common law spouse (Ms. Jones’ former husband) and wanted to find out if he was paying Ms. Jones child support. Notably, Ms. Tsige did not make any copies of or disseminate Ms. Jones’ personal information.

The BMO disciplined Ms. Tsige by meting out a five-day suspension and denying her a yearly bonus. The BMO also issued her a warning that future repetition of her conduct would result in termination of her employment. Ms. Tsige was asked to review and discuss the BMO privacy principles and standards.

The Ontario Superior Court

Ms. Jones lodged an action in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice asserting that her privacy interest in her confidential banking information was “irreversibly destroyed” and claimed damages of $70,000 for invasion of privacy and breach of fiduciary duty, and punitive and exemplary damages of $20,000 against Ms. Tsige.

The Court held there was no fiduciary duty owed by Ms. Tsige to Ms. Jones and dismissed the breach of fiduciary duty claim, finding there was no fiduciary relationship between them in the traditional or non-traditional sense.

With respect to the invasion of privacy claim, the Court rejected the notion that in Ontario a common law tort of invasion of privacy exists. As a result, the privacy claim was also dismissed. The Court stated that in spite of the dismissal, Ms. Jones was not without remedy because she could bring an action for invasion of privacy under the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, 2000 c. 5 (“PIPEDA”).

The Ontario Court of Appeal

Ms. Jones appealed the Superior Court’s ruling to the Ontario Court of Appeal only on the ground that Ontario law does not recognize the tort of invasion of privacy. The Court of Appeal reversed the lower Court’s decision, recognized the tort of intrusion upon seclusion, and awarded Ms. Jones damages.

In order to come to the conclusion that the tort of intrusion upon seclusion exists in Ontario, the Court of Appeal conducted an extensive review of Canadian, American, and English jurisprudence on the tort of invasion of privacy. The Court found the comments of Professor Prosser particularly compelling, and stated that if Ms. Jones did have a cause of action for the invasion of her privacy, it would fall in Professor Prosser’s first category of invasion of privacy, namely intrusion upon seclusion.[1]

For her case, Ms. Tsige submitted that the existing Ontario and federal legislative framework addressing privacy is an adequate basis for the Court to refuse to recognize the emerging tort of intrusion upon seclusion. To that end, Ms. Tsige argued that expansion of the law in the area should be left to Parliament and the legislature.

The Court of Appeal considered and rejected this argument, pointing out the various deficiencies in the legislative framework with respect to Ms. Jones’ case. Namely, the legislation that Ms. Jones could use, PIPEDA, only deals with “organizations” that are within federal jurisdiction and does not address the existence of a civil cause of action for invasion of privacy within provincial jurisdiction. In addition, Ms. Jones would only be able to use PIPEDA to lodge an action against the BMO, not Ms. Tsige, and the statute would not permit her to recover damages. Further, the Court of Appeal identified that existing Ontario legislation does not provide for a private cause of action between individuals; it merely addresses individual privacy rights in the context of governmental and other public institutions.

The Court of Appeal then confirmed the existence of a right of action for intrusion upon seclusion, reasoning as follows:

Recognition of such a cause of action would amount to an incremental step that is consistent with the role of this court to develop the common law in a manner consistent with the changing needs of society.

For over one hundred years, technological change has motivated the legal protection of the individual’s right to privacy. In modern times, the pace of technological change has accelerated exponentially…

It is within the capacity of the common law to evolve to respond to the problem posed by the routine collection and aggregation of highly personal information that is readily accessible in electronic form. Technological change poses a novel threat to a right of privacy that has been protected for hundreds of years by the common law under various guises and that, since 1982 and the Charter, has been recognized as a right that is integral to our social and political order.

The Legal Elements of Intrusion upon Seclusion

The Ontario Court of Appeal expressly adopted the key features of intrusion upon seclusion as delineated in the Restatement (Second) of Torts (2010). The legal elements are that:

  1. The defendant’s conduct must be intentional, which includes reckless conduct;
  2. The defendant must have invaded, without lawful justification, the plaintiff’s private affairs or concerns; and
  3. A reasonable person would regard the invasion as highly offensive causing distress, humiliation, or anguish.

The Court of Appeal opined that recognizing intrusion upon seclusion as a cause of action does not pose a serious risk of opening the proverbial “floodgates”. The Court stated only “deliberate and significant invasions of personal privacy” are caught by the tort and not de minimus cases:

Claims from individuals who are sensitive or unusually concerned about their privacy are excluded: it is only intrusions into matters such as one’s financial or health records, sexual practices and orientation, employment, diary or private correspondence that, viewed objectively on the reasonable person standard, can be described as highly offensive.

Nonetheless, the Court indicated that a plaintiff is not required to establish actual loss or damages as part of the cause of action. In this respect, the tort of intrusion upon seclusion is similar to the statutory causes of action for invasion of privacy which exist under the legislative schemes implemented in the four provinces, including British Columbia.

Having said this, the Court stated that where the plaintiff has suffered no pecuniary loss, only “symbolic” or “moral” damages are appropriate to acknowledge the wrong done. After considering Ontario case law and the Manitoba Privacy Act, the Court of Appeal established the upper range for damages where no pecuniary loss is suffered at $20,000. The Court then awarded Ms. Jones $10,000, the mid-point of the range, stating that Ms. Tsige’s conduct was “highly offensive to the reasonable person and caused humiliation, distress and anguish”, but that it did not qualify as “exceptional circumstances” meriting an award of punitive or exemplary damages – those awards were to be left for “truly exceptional circumstances”.

EVANS V THE BANK OF NOVA SCOTIA

The Facts

Evans also involves another major bank, the Bank of Nova Scotia (“BNS”), where an employee illegitimately accessed customer information. The employee, Mr. Wilson was a mortgage administration officer for the BNS, and as such had access to highly confidential customer information.

Over the course of approximately one year, Mr. Wilson accessed the files of 643 customers of the BNS and forwarded private information to his girlfriend. His girlfriend then distributed the information to individuals who used it to commit identity theft and other fraud. Unlike Jones, it was law enforcement and not the bank that uncovered the scheme. The arrangement and Mr. Wilson’s involvement was exposed by the Calgary Police in the course of executing a search warrant against individuals who were attempting to use the information to perpetrate fraud in Alberta. Mr. Wilson was confronted and confessed to improperly printing and accessing customer profiles for individuals who had applied for mortgages.

The BNS gave notice to the 643 individuals whose profiles had been accessed by Mr. Wilson (the “Notice Group”). Over 130 individuals from the Notice Group have since informed the BNS that they have been victims of identity theft or fraud. The BNS compensated those individuals for their financial losses and offered each individual in the Notice Group a complimentary subscription to credit monitoring and identity-theft protection service.

In spite of these efforts, the BNS, in addition to Mr. Wilson, was named as a defendant in a class action, with the class being the entire Notice Group. The Ontario Superior Court certified the Notice Group’s class action for, inter alia, the BNS’ vicarious liability for intrusion upon seclusion.

Vicarious Liability and Intrusion Upon Seclusion

The Ontario Superior Court relied on the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision Bazley v Curry, [1999] SCR 534 (“Bazley”) for the rationale to impose vicarious liability on an employer. In Bazley, McLaughlin J (as she then was) stated:

The fundamental question is whether the wrongful act is sufficiently related to conduct authorized by the employer to justify the imposition of vicarious liability…

In determining the sufficiency of the connection between the employer’s creation or enhancement of the risk and the wrong complained of, subsidiary factors may be considered. These may vary with the nature of the case. When related to intentional torts, the relevant factors may include, but are not limited to, the following:

    1.  the opportunity that the enterprise afforded the employee to abuse his or her power;
    2.  the extent to which the wrongful act may have furthered the employer’s aims (and hence be more likely to have been committed by the employee);
    3.  the extent to which the wrongful act was related to friction, confrontation or intimacy inherent in the employer’s enterprise;
    4.  the extent of power conferred on the employee in relation to the victim;
    5.  the vulnerability of potential victims to wrongful exercise of the employee’s power.

[Emphasis in original]

The Ontario Superior Court further specified that “vicarious liability ‘is strict, and does not require any misconduct on the part of the person who is subject to it’: Straus Estate v Decaire, 2011 ONSC 1157, 84 C.C.L.T. (3d) 141 at para. 49.”

Applying this legal test to the conduct of the BNS, the Court found that, at least to the extent required to certify the class action, the BNS had enabled Mr. Wilson to commit the tort of intrusion upon seclusion:

[BNS] created the opportunity for Wilson to abuse his power by allowing him to have unsupervised access to customer’s private information without installing any monitoring system… Wilson was given complete power in relation to the victims’ (customers) confidential information, because of his unsupervised access to their confidential information. Bank customers are entirely vulnerable to an employee releasing their confidential information. Finally, there is a significant connection between the risk created by the employer in this situation and the wrongful conduct of the employee.

Furthermore, the Court’s decision to certify the class action for the tort of intrusion upon seclusion was not influenced by the BNS’ admission of responsibility to compensate the Notice Group for any financial losses. The BNS submitted that it accepted liability for the pecuniary losses of the individuals, as evidenced by the BNS’ willingness to financially compensate the members of the Notice Group that came forward as being victims of fraud. The Court refused to accept the BNS’ argument that it was not liable for further damages through vicarious liability for the tort of intrusion upon seclusion. Conversely, the Court distinguished the two types of damages and stated that the BNS’ “admission of responsibility to pay for the pecuniary damages suffered is a different situation from the absence of claim for compensatory damages”.

COMMENTS

Jones and Evans raise a number of thought-provoking issues for employers to consider, and the ramifications of the two cases extend well beyond Ontario.

Though it has yet to proceed to trial, Evans clearly brings to light the necessity of employers to keep up with the demands of privacy law. Employers who are neglectful in this regard may be held liable for not only the pecuniary damages associated with illegitimate access or use of private information, but also the moral or compensatory damages that may flow from a successful claim of vicariously liability for intrusion upon seclusion or applicable statutory causes of action for invasion of privacy.

In an increasingly technological world, employers have the responsibility to adequately supervise employees in their access to confidential or private information when such access is granted by virtue of employment. To this end, employers should have up-to-date privacy policies in place and ensure that employees are aware of what constitutes unauthorized access or use of private information. Employers should take active measures to ensure that these policies are implemented and followed, and it is recommended that the policies include mechanisms to monitor employee access to private information in order to identify potential abuse. Being proactive and having effective policies in place may assist employers in decreasing liability in the event that a claim of vicarious liability for an invasion of privacy is brought against the employer, or, in any event, may reduce the number and severity of potential claims by exposing unauthorized access sooner rather than later.

In addition, while the courts in British Columbia are not bound by the decisions of Ontario courts, the decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal in Jones and that of the Ontario Superior Court in Evans may still be relied upon as persuasive authority. In particular, the two decisions may be used to delineate the scope of privacy protection afforded in other jurisdictions, including provinces with general privacy legislation, since “privacy” is not defined in the statutes.

Moreover, Jones is a well-reasoned decision with an extensive overview of the relevant jurisprudence, legislation and authoritative academic literature on the tort of invasion of privacy. The Ontario Court of Appeal took judicial notice of the role of technological change and the growing threat it poses for privacy, making a highly persuasive case for other courts to “develop the common law in a manner consistent with changing society”.

Finally, the tort of intrusion upon seclusion may affect individuals outside of Ontario even before a decision is made to import the new cause of action to other jurisdictions. The Notice Group in Evans includes individuals who are residents of British Columbia and New Brunswick. The BNS attempted to argue that as against those 35 individuals, the claim of vicarious liability for intrusion upon seclusion could not disclose a reasonable cause of action, since the two jurisdictions have not yet recognized the tort.

The Ontario Superior Court chose not to preclude these individuals from utilizing the cause of action and instead commented that “[w]hile the Courts in British Columbia and New Brunswick have not as of yet recognized the tort of intrusion upon seclusion, I was not given caselaw to suggest that they have definitively shut the door on this cause of action.” In the end, the courts of British Columbia may decide to open the door to intrusion upon seclusion, and employers should be prepared for if, and when, they do.


[1] William Prosser, Law of Torts, 4th ed. (West Publishing Company, 1971) at p. 389:

  1. Intrusion upon the plaintiff’s seclusion or solitude, or into his private affairs.
  2. Public disclosure of embarrassing private facts about the plaintiff.
  3. Publicity which places the plaintiff in a false light in the public eye.
  4. Appropriation, for the defendant’s advantage, of the plaintiff’s name or likeness.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Shafik Bhalloo
Tuesday, January 7th, 2014    Posted by Shafik Bhalloo (posts) and Devin Lucas (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.
Devin Lucas
Devin Lucas maintains a general civil litigation practice with a focus on corporate and commercial litigation and landlord tenant and real property disputes. His commercial litigation experience includes contractual disputes, employment matters, and debtor-creditor law.

 

by Devin Lucas and Shafik Bhalloo

In IBM Canada Limited v. Richard Waterman[1], Richard Waterman (“Waterman”) was employed by IBM Canada Ltd. (“IBM”) for approximately 42 years before he was dismissed on March 23, 2009 without cause.  Waterman, aged 65, was given two months’ notice.  Prior to his dismissal, Waterman had been a long-standing member of IBM’s defined benefit pension plan (the “Plan”).  According to the terms of the Plan, IBM contributed a portion of Waterman’s salary to the Plan on his behalf.  The Plan guaranteed certain benefits upon Waterman’s retirement.  Upon termination, Waterman was eligible for a full pension; however, both his employment contract and the Plan did not address whether Waterman could receive his salary and pension concurrently.  Waterman refused to accept the severance package offered by IBM and filed suit, claiming damages for wrongful dismissal.

 

Trial Decision

One of the primary issues before the British Columbia Supreme Court was whether the pension benefits paid to Waterman should be deducted from an award for damages for wrongful dismissal.   After a summary trial hearing, the Trial Court awarded Waterman 20 months’ notice and refused to deduct the pension benefits paid to Waterman during the notice period in determining his damages.  With respect to the issue of the deductibility of pension benefits, the Trial Court held that it was bound by the British Columbia Court of Appeal decision in Girling v. Crown Cork & Seal Canada Inc. [2]  In Girling, the Court of Appeal had expressly rejected the argument that retirement benefits must be deducted from an award of damages.  The Trial Court cited Girling, at paragraph 46, as follows:

It was argued on behalf of the employer that the governing principle in awarding damages for wrongful dismissal is prima facie the amount the employee would have earned had the employment continued, in this case, until the end of the notice period.  It was submitted that this employee would not have been entitled to receive a retirement pension while still working and receiving pay. In short, an employee is not entitled to pension and pay at the same time and without deduction one from the other.  I do not accept this.

I am in accord with the resolution of this conundrum by the Chambers judge who determined that the pension benefits of the employment contract are collateral benefits of the employment contract which should not be considered income and should not be deducted from damages which are income in lieu of notice. The damages (pay in lieu of notice) flow from breach of the employment contract and the collateral pension benefits are payable pursuant to the contractual arrangements therefor. They are not to be modified by the appearance of duplication.

In the Trial Court’s opinion it was bound by Girling and noted that until a higher court holds to the contrary, pension benefits are not deductible from an award of damages for wrongful dismissal.

The British Columbia Court of Appeal Dismisses Appeal

IBM appealed the decision to the British Columbia Court of Appeal and asked for an order that pension benefits paid to Waterman during the applicable notice period be deducted from the award of damages against IBM.   Madam Justice Prowse, writing for a unanimous court, dismissed IBM’s appeal.  In so holding, Madam Justice Prowse found that the pension benefits paid to Waterman were not a substitute for salary, nor were they payments made in lieu of salary.

According to Madam Justice Prowse, whether or not a dismissed employee would be entitled to both salary and payment of his or her pension benefits during the notice period turns on the interpretation of the contractual relationship between the employer and the employee.  As noted above, there was nothing in the Plan or the employment contract that prohibited Waterman from receiving pension benefits and salary simultaneously.

Madam Justice Prowse went on to hold that it is not inherently contradictory for an employee to receive both a salary and pension benefits and, in fact, there are many examples of that occurring in today’s workforce, including employees receiving statutory pension benefits, private pension benefits from employment, and payments from an employer where the employee has earned a pension, retires, and is subsequently hired back.

In obiter, Madam Justice Prowse briefly considered broader policy arguments and stated at para. 64:

[64]   I would add that I do not take the position that Mr. Waterman is entitled to his pension benefits because it would be “wrong” for IBM to receive a set-off of these benefits against salary.  In other words, my decision is not predicated in any way on the concept of punishing a wrongdoer.  I do not think that notions of “right” and “wrong” are useful in dealing with what is essentially a contract analysis.  I note as a practical matter, however, that if pension benefits could be deducted from salary in circumstances such as these, the result could be viewed as an invitation to employers facing economic hardship to terminate senior employees with many years of service who have vested pension rights and entitlement to a significant pension, rather than more junior employees without vested rights, since laying off the former would result in a significant offset of pension against salary in estimating damages for wrongful dismissal.  A policy argument could be mounted for arguing that the employment contract should be interpreted in such a way to avoid such a result, but no such policy argument was advanced in this case.

 

The Supreme Court of Canada Decision

On Appeal by IBM, the Supreme Court of Canada considered the issue of whether Waterman’s pension benefits should be deducted from the wrongful dismissal damages payable by IBM.  In a 7-2 divide, the majority of the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed IBM’s appeal and ruled that Waterman’s pension benefits were not deductible.

Justice Cromwell, writing for the majority, held that employee pension payments, including payments from a defined benefits plan, should normally not reduce the damages otherwise payable for wrongful dismissal.  Justice Cromwell found that pension benefits are a type of deferred compensation for the employee’s service and can be likened to a form of retirement savings.  Justice Cromwell rejected the proposition that pension benefits are intended to protect an employee from wage loss due to unemployment.  According to Justice Cromwell, two factors weighed heavily in favour of not deducting Waterman’s pension benefits from his damages award.  Firstly, Waterman had contributed to the Plan from his salary.   Secondly, as noted above, pension benefits are not intended to indemnify an employee for lost wages.  On this basis, Justice Cromwell concluded that Waterman’s interest in the pension benefits had similar hallmarks to property rights and, accordingly, Waterman had enforceable rights over the benefits.

Justice Cromwell briefly touched upon certain policy concerns.  Specifically, Justice Cromwell expressed unease regarding possible incentives for employers to terminate employees possessing pensions rather than non-pensionable employees and stated at para. 93:

[93]   These factors are also relevant here, although, in this case, they support not deducting rather than deducting the benefits. Unlike in Sylvester, non-deduction in this case promotes equal treatment of employees. If deduction is permitted, an employee who is eligible to receive his or her pension but has not reached 71 years of age can, by means of wrongful dismissal, be forced to retire and draw on his or her pension benefits. By contrast, an employee who is not entitled to his or her pension receives either a deferred pension or the commuted value of it plus full damages for wrongful dismissal and an employee over the age of 71 receives both pension and employment income.  Deducting the benefits only in the case of employees in Mr. Waterman’s situation would constitute unequal treatment of pensionable employees. Moreover, deductibility seems to me to provide an incentive for employers to dismiss pensionable employees rather than other employees because it will be cheaper to do so. This is not an incentive the law should provide. While this is a broader policy consideration, it is directly related to the benefit in question and has a reasonable basis in fact.

In a strong dissent, Chief Justice McLachlin and Justice Rothstein found that Waterman’s pension benefits should be deducted from the calculation of his damages award for wrongful dismissal.  The dissent focused on the governing principle of damages in the case of breach of contract, which is to put the non-breaching party in the position he or she would have been in had the contract been performed.  By declining to deduct Waterman’s pension benefits, the dissent ruled that Waterman was receiving a windfall, and that Waterman would get more than he bargained for and would charge IBM more than it agreed to pay.  In contrast to the majority’s approach, the dissent found that employer-provided benefits could not be separated from an employment contract.  In the dissent’s view, they are to be considered as one “single contract” and, as such, Waterman’s entitlements largely depend on the ordinary rule of contract damages.

The Effect of the Supreme Court of Canada’s Ruling

This leading decision of the Supreme Court of Canada is noteworthy as it affirms the view that pension benefits should not ordinarily be deducted from wrongful dismissal damages.  This ruling favours pension-eligible employees and provides some much-needed certainty to this area of law.  Nevertheless, given the strong dissent advanced by Chief Justice McLachlin and Justice Rothstein, there is still some possibility of debate in future cases on the deductibility of pension benefits from wrongful dismissal damages.  Moreover, it is unclear how a Court would rule in the face of an employment contract or pension plan that contained a clause holding that wrongful dismissal damages and pension benefits are not to be paid concurrently.


[1] 2013 SCC 70

[2] (1995), 9 B.C.L.R. (3d) 1

 

Posted by Shafik Bhalloo (posts) and Devin Lucas (posts) | Filed under Other | ....
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.

 

Tags: , , , ,

Posted by Shafik Bhalloo (posts) | Filed under Labour & Employment, Other | ....
Jennifer MacGregor-Greer
Friday, December 14th, 2012    Posted by Jennifer MacGregor-Greer (posts)

Many entrepreneurs perceive securities laws to apply only to large publicly-listed entities.  However, securities laws apply to every business, and business owners should include securities compliance in their corporate oversight regimes.  For an entity with a limited number of stakeholders, this is not an expensive or particularly onerous endeavour.

Securities law in Canada is regulated provincially.  While many Canadian jurisdictions have harmonized their securities regimes in recent years, there are certain differences across Canada.  The laws that apply to each business (called an “issuer” under securities law, as an issuer of securities) and investor depend primarily on the jurisdiction in which that issuer or investor resides.  While securities laws differ across Canada, we note that there are greater differences for businesses located in the United States, or for those planning to distribute securities to any investors resident in the United States.  This article is based on securities laws applicable in British Columbia.

Under securities law, every issuance of a “security” requires (a) the publication of a prospectus by the issuer, and (b) registration of any person who is in the business of trading the security.  A “security” can be a wide variety of instruments or things, ranging from shares, units and options, to debt instruments and investment contracts – in effect, anything that would result in a person having an interest in the business of the issuer.  The prospectus and registration requirements are meant to protect investors from the risks associated with investment.  However, most small businesses are able to rely upon exemptions from these requirements for much of their corporate lifespan.  For the most part, these exemptions are found in National Instrument 45-106 of the Canadian Securities Administrators, “Prospectus and Registration Exemptions”.

The exemption that most businesses use in their initial stages of growth is called the Private Issuer Exemption.  Issuers that have distributed securities to fewer than 50 persons (not including employees and former employees) and that have not distributed securities of any class to members of the public are generally able to rely upon the Private Issuer Exemption.  Provided that an issuer complies with the detailed provisions of this exemption, including only distributing securities to certain categories of investors, it could use this exemption for a number of years.  In some cases, we have seen closely-held entities use this exemption for their entire corporate existence.  The categories of investors to whom issuers are able to distribute securities under this exemption include directors, officers and employees of the issuer, accredited investors (see the description below), immediate family members of directors and officers of the issuer, close personal friends and close business associates of directors and officers of the issuer, and existing security holders of the issuer.

Issuers who can no longer rely upon the Private Issuer Exemption, whether because they have distributed securities to more than 50 persons or because they wish to distribute securities to persons that are outside the designated categories of investors permitted under the Private Issuer Exemption, may be able to distribute securities in reliance on certain other prospectus and registration exemptions.  The most commonly used exemptions for small businesses are the Accredited Investor Exemption, the Minimum Amount Investment Exemption, the Family, Friends and Business Associates Exemption and the Offering Memorandum Exemption.

The Accredited Investor Exemption focuses on the attributes of the investor rather than the issuer itself.  In effect, the prospectus and registration requirements are considered not to apply to investors who have the financial means to absorb the loss of their entire investment, and the knowledge and experience to assess the risks associated with the investment.  While there are many classes of “accredited investors”, the most commonly used are (a) the class based on net worth, under which the investor, either alone or with their spouse, has net assets of at least $5,000,000, and (b) the class based on net income, under which the investor has a net income before taxes that exceeded $200,000 in each of the two most recent calendar years or whose net income before taxes combined with that of a spouse exceeded $300,000 in each of the two most recent calendar years and who, in either case, reasonably expects to exceed that net income level in the current calendar year.

The Minimum Amount Investment Exemption focuses on the amount of the investor’s financial investment.  Currently, this exemption applies to investors who invest at least $150,000 in securities of the issuer.  Use of this exemption, similar to the Accredited Investor exemption, assumes that a person who has the financial wherewithal to invest at least $150,000 has the financial means to absorb a loss, and the knowledge and experience to assess the risks associated with the investment, and therefore does not require the protection associated with a prospectus.

The Family, Friends and Business Associates Exemption is meant to apply where close personal friends and close business associates of directors and officers of the issuer make an investment, and therefore focusses on the relationship between the investor and the director or officer.  The investor must be able to demonstrate that they have a sufficiently close relationship with the director or officer to be able to properly evaluate the director’s or officer’s capabilities and trustworthiness.  The relationship in each case must be direct.

The Offering Memorandum Exemption gives an issuer access to a very broad range of prospective investors.  However, it does involve producing an offering memorandum in respect of the offered securities, which involves a substantial output of resources.  We do not recommend using this exemption unless an issuer has already exhausted their access to other exemptions and wishes to offer to the public, without becoming a publicly listed issuer.

We caution issuers and investors that most of these exemptions involve making certain filings with the local securities commission.  As well, their use requires a careful review of the issuer’s particular situation and the class of prospective investors who wish to invest.  Each exemption carries with it various requirements that are not addressed in this article, so if you are anticipating issuing securities we recommend speaking with one of our lawyers so we can provide you with appropriate advice.

The prospectus and registration requirements also apply on each occasion that a security is resold, again with certain exceptions.  We recognize that for most small businesses, investors plan to hold their investment for a lengthy period of time.  If this is not the case, investors need to be aware that their ability to transfer securities will depend on factors such as when the securities were first issued, under what exemptions they were issued, and the jurisdictions in which the transferor and transferee reside.

Securities law is complex, and in recent years securities regulators have been placing greater emphasis on compliance, even for those entities that are not publicly listed.  We recommend obtaining legal advice early as to the requirements that will apply to your business.

Please contact Jennifer MacGregor-Greer or Carol Alter Kerfoot for specific advice relating to the distribution of securities by your business.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Shafik Bhalloo
Wednesday, September 19th, 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.

 

When a manager is not a manager: Employers beware of liability for overtime or extra pay

                                                                        By Shafik Bhalloo*

 

Section of the British Columbia Employment Standards Act (the “Act”) delineates overtime wage requirements for employees who work over 8 hours per day or 40 hours per week.  It states:

40. (1) An employer must pay an employee who works over 8 hours a day, and is not working under an averaging agreement under section 37,

(a) 1 1/2 times the employee’s regular wage for the time over 8 hours, and

(b) double the employee’s regular wage for any time over 12 hours.

(2) An employer must pay an employee who works over 40 hours a week, and is not working under an averaging agreement under section 37, 1 1/2 times the employee’s regular wage for the time over 40 hours.

(3) For the purpose of calculating weekly overtime under subsection (2), only the first 8 hours worked by an employee in each day are counted, no matter how long the employee works on any day of the week.

However, section 40 of Act does not apply to employees who are “managers” as Section 34(f) of the Employment Standards Regulation (the “Regulation”) specifically excludes managers (and some other categories of employees) from hours of work and overtime requirements.  It states:

 

34. Part 4 of the Act does not apply to any of the following:

(f) a manager;

Having said this, simply calling an employee a “manager” will not exempt her from overtime compensation under Section 40 of the Act.  It is not the job title but the job duties that determine whether or not the employee is exempt from overtime compensation under the Act.  Section 1(1) of the Regulation provides an exclusive definition of  “manager” as follows:

1. (1) “manager” means

(a) a person whose principal employment responsibilities consist of supervising or directing, or both supervising and directing, human or other resources, or

(b) a person employed in an executive capacity;

In 429485 B.C. Limited Operating Amelia Street Bistro (“Amelia Street Bistro”)[1] the Employment Standards Tribunal considered several previous cases of the Tribunal on the definition of “manager” and concluded as follows:

The task of determining if a person is a manager must address the definition of manager in the Regulation….Typically, a manager has a power of independent action, autonomy and discretion; he or she has the authority to make final decisions, not simply recommendations, relating to supervising and directing employees or to the conduct of the business.  Making final judgments about such matters as hiring, firing, disciplining, authorizing overtime, time off or leaves of absence, calling employees in to work or laying them off, altering work processes, establishing or altering work schedules and training employees is typical of the responsibility and discretion accorded a manager.  We do not say that the employee must have a responsibility and discretion about all of these matters.  It is a question of degree, keeping in mind the object is to reach a conclusion about whether the employee has and is exercising a power and authority typical of a manager.  It is not sufficient simply to say a person has that authority.  It must be shown to have been exercised by that person.

If you are an employee hired in a “managerial” or “executive” position, you should examine your day-to-day duties and determine whether your primary job duties are supervisory or managerial  in character – do you have authority to make final decisions?  Do you supervise and direct employees?  Do you hire and fire employees?  Do you discipline employees?  Do you have discretion and authority to independently set or change employees’ schedules and make decisions to call in or layoff employees?  If your primary job duties includes some or most of these tasks, you may be a manager but if your primary duties do not include these tasks or if you rarely or irregularly perform these tasks, you may not be a manager within the meaning of the Regulation.  In such case, you may be entitled to overtime pay for any extra hours you work over and above 8 in a day and 40 in a week.

If, however, you satisfy the definition of “manager” in the Regulation, is your employer exempt from paying you any additonal pay for extra hours worked?  The Tribunal, in a few cases, has indicated that some managers can claim pay at “straight time” rates for extra hours worked[2] – that is, beyond 8 hours daily or beyond 40 hours weekly, if working those extra hours was not an agreed term of your employment relationship or included in your base pay.

If you are an employer desiring to curtail your exposure to pay extra to your manager for any additional hours of work, then you should consider have a binding employment contract in place that specifically addresses this issue.  More particularly, you want an employment contract that clearly specifies that the manager is expected to work in excess of 8 hours in a day and 40 hours in a week and that the manager’s base salary includes or is intended as compensation for all hours worked.


[1] BC EST #D479/97

[2] Re Fort St. John, BC EST # D265/03

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Posted by Shafik Bhalloo (posts) | Filed under Labour & Employment, Other | ....