In Aboagye v Atomic Energy, the Court of Appeal for Ontario upheld a Superior Court of Justice decision which confirmed that the employee’s dishonest conduct justified his termination.
Mr. Aboagye was hired by AECL as an Industrial Safety Specialist. He was terminated after just over six months’ service for a number of reasons, including that AECL had discovered that he had been dishonest in answering questions on a security questionnaire. The employee sued for wrongful dismissal and sought damages of about $4 million. This matter proceeded by summary judgment motion rather than a lengthy trial.
At the time he filled the security questionnaire, the employee was employed at Ivaco Rolling Mills. The employee failed to disclose this fact about his employment history. The employee also indicated by email that he was unemployed. Later on, AECL learned that that the employee further lied about his whereabouts when the employer was trying to reach him to extend an offer of employment. At the time, the employee said he was in Africa attending his father’s funeral, which was untrue.
Further, the employee admittedly chose to withhold the information about his current employment, despite the warnings on the security questionnaire. When he was specifically asked about whether he was “presently” “working”, he outright lied: “I am currently unemployed”.
The trial judge held that his employment was properly terminated for cause. Standing on its own, his dishonesty in the hiring process destroyed the trust relationship between employer and employee. The judge’s reasons shed light on what type of dishonesty may constitute cause for dismissal. While dishonesty will not necessarily give rise to cause for dismissal, dishonesty that goes to the “core of the employment relationship” carries the potential for dismissal. For instance, if the dishonesty violates an essential condition of the employment contract, breaches the faith inherent to the work relationship, or is fundamentally or directly inconsistent with the employee’s obligations to his or her employer. Further, the trial judge observed that AECL’s employees have access to nuclear facilities and information vital to the security of the country. The security clearances were designed to protect national security.
This decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal which reiterated that the breach of honesty in this case went to the core of the employment relationship.
For employers in highly regulated environments, this decision provides insight into what degree of dishonesty will be sufficient to uphold a termination for cause. This case could also be relied upon by employers who wish to defend termination for cause cases at a lower cost, and in less time, through the summary judgment process.