Home Wrongful Dismissal The top 10 employment law cases in Canadian history

The top 10 employment law cases in Canadian history

by HR Law Canada

Employment law plays a vital role in protecting workers’ rights and ensuring fair treatment in the workplace. Over the years, Canada has witnessed several landmark cases that have shaped the landscape of employment law. In this blog post, we will delve into the ten biggest cases in employment law history in Canada, highlighting their significance and impact.

  1. Roncarelli v. Duplessis (1959):

This case laid the foundation for the principle of good faith in employment contracts. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the government’s arbitrary revocation of a liquor license held by Frank Roncarelli was a breach of good faith. This decision emphasized the importance of fair dealing and good faith in employment relationships.

  1. Reference Re Public Service Employee Relations Act (1987):

In this case, the Supreme Court declared that collective bargaining is protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The ruling acknowledged the fundamental right of public sector employees to negotiate and engage in collective bargaining, reinforcing the significance of labor unions in protecting workers’ interests.

  1. Wallace v. United Grain Growers Ltd. (1997):

This case established the concept of “bad faith” damages in wrongful dismissal claims. The Supreme Court ruled that employers must act fairly and in good faith when terminating employees. The decision set a precedent for employees to seek additional compensation if their employer acts in a malicious or insensitive manner during the dismissal process.

  1. British Columbia (Public Service Employee Relations Commission) v. BCGSEU (1999):

Known as the Meiorin decision, this case addressed the issue of workplace discrimination based on physical abilities. The Supreme Court adopted a three-step approach to determine if a discriminatory standard is justifiable, emphasizing that employers must accommodate employees’ disabilities unless it causes undue hardship.

  1. Hydro-Québec v. Syndicat des employé-e-s de techniques professionnelles et de bureau d’Hydro-Québec, section locale 2000 (2008):

In this case, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed the importance of pay equity and upheld the right of female-dominated job classes to equal compensation for work of equal value. The decision established pay equity as a fundamental right and paved the way for better gender equality in the workplace.

  1. Keays v. Honda Canada Inc. (2008):

This case clarified the legal standards for awarding damages in wrongful dismissal cases. The Supreme Court rejected the notion of a fixed notice period and emphasized that damages should be compensatory, providing compensation for actual harm suffered by the employee as a result of the dismissal.

  1. McCormick v. Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP (2014):

This case addressed the issue of mandatory retirement in law firms. The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruled that the law firm’s mandatory retirement policy violated the Ontario Human Rights Code, which protects against age discrimination. The decision confirmed that employers cannot impose arbitrary retirement ages on employees.

  1. Wilson v. Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (2016):

The Supreme Court’s ruling in this case extended protection against unjust dismissals to non-unionized workers. The court held that federally regulated employers must provide a valid reason for dismissing non-unionized employees, establishing a higher standard for just cause terminations.

  1. Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, Local 30 v. Irving Pulp & Paper, Ltd. (2013):

This case clarified the rights of employers to implement alcohol and drug testing in safety-sensitive workplaces. The Supreme Court outlined a framework that balances the employer’s interest in maintaining a safe workplace with employees’ privacy rights, establishing guidelines for drug and alcohol testing policies.

  1. R. v. Jordan (2016):

Although not solely an employment law case, R. v. Jordan significantly impacted the legal landscape concerning the right to a timely trial. The Supreme Court decision set new limits on trial delays, emphasizing the importance of an accused person’s constitutional right to be tried within a reasonable time. While not specific to employment law, this ruling indirectly affects employment-related cases, including those involving workplace disputes or criminal charges against employees.


The ten landmark cases in Canadian employment law history discussed in this blog post have played a crucial role in shaping the rights and protections afforded to workers in Canada. From establishing principles of good faith and collective bargaining to addressing issues of discrimination, wrongful dismissal, and workplace safety, these cases have significantly influenced the legal framework governing employment relationships.

These cases have helped establish fundamental rights and principles that promote fairness, equality, and respect in the workplace. They provide guidance to employers, employees, and legal professionals, fostering a more equitable and harmonious work environment.

As Canadian employment law continues to evolve, it is essential to understand the significance of these landmark cases and their lasting impact. By reflecting on the lessons learned and the progress made, we can strive towards a more just and inclusive labor market where the rights and dignity of every worker are protected.

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