‘Lost in the mists of time’: Case of Nova Scotia construction worker puts spotlight on fact they’re not entitled to termination pay

A construction worker gives a thumbs up on the jobsite. Photo: HR Law Canada/Canva

A construction worker in Nova Scotia was not entitled to a reason for his sudden dismissal. Nor was he entitled to any notice, the province’s Labour Board has ruled.

It cast light on a fact that may come as a surprise to some — construction workers in the province are not entitled to termination pay under the Labour Standards Code.

“In its wisdom, the Legislature has made distinctions between employees who work in construction and those who work in other capacities,” the board said. “While its precise rationale may be lost in the mists of time, one can surmise that it has something to do with the often-transient nature of construction employment, where workers are often only hired for specific projects.”

Hired as pump installer in 2017

Brandon Bruckschwaiger worked for Respondent Island Well Drillers, a company that works on the construction and maintenance of water wells, primarily in Cape Breton.

Bruckschwaiger was hired by the company in 2017 as a pump installer and worked in that capacity until he was terminated on Nov. 1, 2021. He was given no advance warning of termination, nor was he provided with termination pay of any kind.

He wasn’t even informed of the reason why he was being terminated.

Bruckschwaiger landed a job the next day, and later went on to a position he considered even better — so there was no question of income loss.

But he persisted with the claim because he believed he should have been given reason for his termination, and sought at least two weeks of termination pay under the Labour Standards Code.

The claim for wages was denied on the sole basis that the minimum entitlements under the code do not apply to workers in the construction industry in Nova Scotia, the Director of Labour Standards ruled.

Therefore, the employer was not required to pay termination pay to him.

Reason for termination

The board then turned its attention to Bruckschwaiger’s request for a reason for the termination.

“Legally speaking, an employer does not have to give a reason unless it is alleging just cause for termination,” the board said. “In the non-unionized sector, an employer may dismiss without cause and without providing a reason, though it may be liable to provide reasonable notice.”

The board noted that it might come as a surprise to some that construction workers are treated so differently in respect of their rights on termination.

But the fact they’re not entitled to termination pay under the code does not affect their common law right to sue for wrongful dismissal, it said, “assuming all other relevant conditions exist.”

For more information see Bruckschwaiger v Island Well Drillers Limited, 2023 NSLB 2 (CanLII).

About HR Law Canada 763 Articles
HR Law Canada posts are written by the team at North Wall Media, publishers of this media brand.