Written by Christina Catenacci, BA, LLB, LLM, PhD, Content Editor, First Reference Inc.
In August 2023, the Court of King’s Bench of Alberta dismissed an employee’s claim of constructive dismissal because it turned out that, on the evidence presented, the claim would not succeed at trial and was without merit. More specifically, the employee could not show that his employment contract was unilaterally changed to his detriment, or that the employer’s conduct demonstrated that it no longer intended to be bound by the terms of the employment contract (including the company Code of Conduct). Rather, the employee’s accusations of mistreatment were simply not true-in fact, the court confirmed that it could not say that the evidence amounted to anything more than the employee’s “negative subjective interpretation and a mistaken assumption that [was] not objectively supported by the evidence.”
In this case, the employee had worked with the employer for seven-and-one-half years. The problem began when he got a new supervisor. According to the employee, he always got along with his previous supervisors and received positive performance reviews, but this new supervisor was causing an issue because he was intimidating, aggressive and humiliating. For example, a couple of times, the supervisor slapped his hand on the desk during meetings. According to the supervisor, the intent was meant to be emphatic. The employee also alleged that the supervisor would come into his office and stare at his computer screen in an intimidating manner. In response, the supervisor stated that looking at the employee’s computer screen was part of his job.
Another main complaint that the employee made was that he was passed over for promotions and was blocked from transfers to other positions in other departments. In fact, the employee was of the view that working under his new supervisor created a hostile working environment, and all of this was causing his undocumented medical condition to be worse because of the stress. Lastly, the employee argued that his supervisor’s behaviour was in breach of the employer’s Code of Conduct, which was part of the terms of his employment contract.
In response, the employer argued that the employee would have to improve his leadership, collaborative and communication skills in order to advance or be a suitable candidate for other positions within the company. The employer explained that the employee was habitually defensive and condescending to colleagues, did not welcome constructive criticism or function well as part of a team. The employer clarified that there was never any intention to block internal job applications or transfer attempts. The employer insisted that there was no evidence that the employer was trying to cause the employee to resign.
Although the employer had a formal complaints process in place, the employee never used it. Instead, he resigned in a clear and unequivocal manner. He expected that when he resigned, he could get contract work with the employer, but that never transpired.
The court had no choice but to dismiss the employee’s claim:
- There was no breach that was detrimental to the employee (a unilateral change of an express or an implied term) in this case.
- While there was a term of the employment contract that the employee was to be treated with civility, decency, respect and dignity, there was no evidence whatsoever that this term was actually breached.
- In this case, there was no passing over for promotional reasons based on race, ethnicity, colour or other prohibited grounds of the Alberta Human Rights Act.
- The court stated, There appears to have been a clash of personalities between the employee and his new supervisor.
- The court also pointed out that there was hardly any detail before the court-on the evidence that did exist, it appeared that the employee did not respect his superior in terms of his knowledge, qualifications or his ability to manage or supervise the projects that the employee was working on.
There was simply no evidence to support any of the employee’s allegations, as this case mostly involved the employee’s negative subjective interpretation of events, and a mistaken assumption that was not objectively supported by the evidence.
Therefore, the court confirmed that the employee’s claim would not succeed at trial and was without merit. As such, the employee’s claim for constructive dismissal was dismissed. That meant that the employer’s application to summarily dismiss the employee’s claim was allowed.