Music teacher was contractor, not employee, despite 13-years on the job: B.C. tribunal

A part-time music teacher who worked for an employer for 13 years was a contractor and not entitled to severance pay, the Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) of British Columbia has ruled.

The teacher signed annual contracts with the Richmond Music School Society (RMSS) that typically covered Sept. 1 to June 30 each year. On June 19, 2020, she was told her contract would not be renewed for the following year.

The teacher said she only realized after the fact she should have received severance pay, and sought $5,000 from RMSS.

The school balked at paying her, taking the position she was an independent contractor. It also said she was employed for a fixed-term and therefore not eligible for common law notice either.

The analysis

The teacher worked, on average, about two hours per week. For 2019-2020, the teacher and RMSS signed three contracts: youth choir; children’s choir; and private voice lessons.

The teacher said that, despite the fact the contracts were annual with fixed end dates, she was employed for an indefinite term.

“Given the significant consequences for an employee when a court finds their employment was fixed-term, courts have required that such contracts be established through unequivocal and explicit language,” the CRT said in the ruling. “Any ambiguities are interpreted strictly against the employer.”

It said the agreements had clear end dates, and the only continuing obligation was that the teacher was not permitted to engage in private instruction of students RMSS referred to her for one year after the contract’s end. (Essentially, a non-solicitation clause.)

The contracts could be terminated by either party with one months’ notice.

No performance reviews

The teacher was not given annual performance reviews, something the court pointed out was set as a precedent in Ceccol v. Ontario Gymnastic Federation, 2001 CanLII 8589 (ON CA).

Nor did the teacher represent that the contract would be renewed every year. The contract itself was silent on renewal.

When RMSS gave notice of non-renewal, it asked her to return the office key and “any items belonging to RMSS.” She agreed to do so, but did not state if she normally kept her key over the summer, nor did she say whether or not she kept items at the school over the summer.

“I find this limited and ambiguous evidence insufficient to establish a mutual intention for an indefinite-term contract,” the CRT said.

Even though the contracts were renewed for 13 years, there simply wasn’t enough evidence of a mutual intention for an indefinite-term contract.

The claim was dismissed. For more information see Kusnetz-Goobar v. Richmond Music School Society, 2022 BCCRT 1011 (CanLII)

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