Conduct Aimed at Forcing a Resignation – Court Awards Damages against the Employer

In Bovin et al v Over the Rainbow Packaging Services Inc., 2017 ONSC 1143, the Superior Court of Justice sent a clear warning to employers who employ bad faith tactics aimed at forcing employees to quit.

Ms. Bovin and Ms. Sidhu began their employment with the Defendant, a packaging company, in 1997. Ms. Bovin was a General Manager/Controller and Ms. Sidhu was a Supervisor. In the spring of 2016, one of the Defendant’s principals, Mr. Gill, told Ms. Bovin the company would wind down and be reincorporated into a new business. He asked her for a $100,000 investment. When she declined, Mr. Gill asked if she would accept a pay cut of 33%. Ms. Bovin said she would take only a 5% pay cut.

Concerned about liability, Mr. Gill set in motion a campaign of harassment to make Ms. Bovin and Ms. Sidhu quit. Mr. Gill told Ms. Bovin that she was overpaid and would have to start “at the bottom” when the corporation wound down; began sitting in her office and staring at her while she worked; disclosed her salary to the other employees at the company; and threatened her with legal action if she, herself, failed to take legal action against poorly performing employees.

As for Ms. Sidhu, Mr. Gill blamed her for issues relating to old machinery; made unfounded complaints about her work; told her she would no longer be paid for her lunch break, and, for the first time in twenty years’ service, told her she would be required to maintain a time card. Mr. Gill also gave some of Ms. Sidhu’s responsibilities to his daughter, who had less than a year’s experience at the company. The employer unilaterally decreased Ms. Bovin’s and Ms. Sidhu’s salaries by 40%. Ms. Bovin and Ms. Sidhu protested and eventually resigned; claiming constructive dismissal.

The Court had no difficulty in finding that the Plaintiffs had been constructively dismissed due to the employer’s disrespectful, demeaning and harassing conduct. The Court awarded each Plaintiff 24 months’ pay in lieu of notice and Ms. Sidhu $13,325.00 in damages for unpaid overtime. The Court also awarded each Plaintiff $15,000 in moral damages on the basis that the employer’s conduct was designed to humiliate the Plaintiffs.

This decision confirms that conduct designed to make the workplace unbearable amounts to a constructive dismissal. In addition, where employers have used bad faith tactics designed to humiliate an employee into quitting, courts will award additional damages to compensate the employees for the unlawful conduct.