Home Featured Ontario’s Court of Appeal upholds aggravated damages awarded to worker terminated two hours after returning from back surgery

Ontario’s Court of Appeal upholds aggravated damages awarded to worker terminated two hours after returning from back surgery

by HR Law Canada

The Court of Appeal for Ontario has upheld a ruling that awarded a long-serving worker 24 months’ notice and $50,000 in aggravated damages after he was terminated two hours after returning to work from back surgery.

The ruling involved D.K., a former employee of Thunder Bay Electronics Limited (TBEL) and Hill Street Financial Services, who was dismissed without cause after nearly three decades of service. The appeal court dismissed the appellants’ challenges against the damages awarded for wrongful dismissal and the finding of their joint and several liabilities.

D.K. started his tenure with TBEL and Hill Street in 1987, ascending to the role of Building Maintenance Supervisor and taking on additional responsibilities, including the maintenance of TBEL’s vehicle fleet. His employment was terminated abruptly in 2016 following his return from medical leave for back surgery, leading him to sue for wrongful dismissal and seek aggravated damages for mental distress.

The trial judge, Justice John S. Fregeau, praised D.K. as an “exemplary loyal and dedicated” employee who had done “everything necessary” for the appellants. The judge awarded him 24 months’ notice, amounting to $48,576 for the remaining eight months after accounting for the severance paid. He was terminated within two hours of returning to work after his back surgery… in a manner that was “untruthful, misleading or unduly insensitive.”

Moreover, Justice Fregeau awarded D.K. $50,000 in aggravated damages, acknowledging the unfair and bad faith manner in which his dismissal was handled.

The appeal focused on several legal issues including whether D.K. had made adequate efforts to find new employment and mitigate damages, the appropriateness of the aggravated damages, and the joint and several liabilities of TBEL and Hill Street.

“Reading the trial judge’s reasons as a whole, it is clear that he accepted that as a result of the manner of dismissal, (D.K.) was plagued by anxiety, depression, fear, poor sleep, frustration, and feelings of helplessness,” the Court of Appeal said. “That is, he found that (D.K.) suffered harm beyond the normal distress and hurt feelings resulting from dismissal.”

The appellants argued that D.K. had not sufficiently mitigated his damages as he was physically able to work, which the trial judge dismissed based on the comprehensive assessment of his condition and capabilities post-surgery.

Gillese J.A., writing for the Court of Appeal, stated, “The trial judge made no error in principle nor did he make any factual error, much less a palpable and overriding one,” affirming the lower court’s decisions.

Key takeaways from the ruling

  • The Court confirmed the award of 24 months’ reasonable notice to D.K., recognizing his long-term service and loyalty.
  • Aggravated damages were justified by the employer’s handling of the termination, underscoring the requirement for employers to act in good faith and with honesty.
  • Both TBEL and Hill Street were held jointly and severally liable for the damages, highlighting the complexities of employment relationships within interconnected corporate entities.

For more information, see Krmpotic v. Thunder Bay Electronics Limited, 2024 ONCA 332 (CanLII).

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