Home Featured Terminated pulp mill employee, induced to leave secure job, awarded 12 months’ notice by B.C. court

Terminated pulp mill employee, induced to leave secure job, awarded 12 months’ notice by B.C. court

by Todd Humber

A former operations specialist at Mercer Celgar has been awarded 12 months’ notice after the Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled he was induced to leave a long-term job.

G.F., a chemical engineer, worked for Catalyst Paper Corporation for 27 years before being recruited by Celgar in April 2018. Despite not actively seeking new employment, he was enticed by promises of better benefits and long-term employment at Celgar.

He accepted the position of operations specialist, similar to his role at Catalyst, after Celgar increased their initial salary offer from $130,000 to $140,000 annually.

However, G.F.’s tenure at Celgar was cut short when he was terminated without cause in September 2020 as part of a downsizing initiative. Initially, Celgar paid him five months’ salary in lieu of notice, but he sought a longer notice period, claiming he had been induced to leave his secure position at Catalyst.

Substantial evidence of inducement

The court analyzed several key issues, including whether G.F. was induced to leave Catalyst, the appropriate notice period, his efforts to mitigate his losses, and his claims for medical expenses incurred during the notice period.

The court found substantial evidence of inducement, noting that Celgar’s recruiter and senior management made specific promises and representations that created a reasonable expectation of long-term employment for G.F.

“Celgar created an expectation on the part of (G.F.) that the opportunity at Celgar was such that it would be advantageous to him to leave his secure long-standing employment,” the court said.

It rejected the company’s position that there was equal interest on the part of both parties, or that G.F. was “so unhappy at Catalyst that he was actively looking for alternate employment.”

It pointed out the G.F. did not respond to a job posting, but instead responded to an email sent directly to him by a recruiter retained by Celgar. The company also paid for a visit to the Celgar Mill in a bid to make the job attractive to him.

During that mill visit, a former worker at Catalyst made statements to G.F. about better working conditions, including paid overtime, better benefits, and a stable fibre supply. He was told specifically that Celgar hired for the “long term.”

He was also asked how long he was prepared to commit to Celgar, implying that the position was meant to be comparatively long term, the court said. Lastly, G.F. did not accept the first offer — and only signed after Celgar boosted the salary offer.

“Based on the totality of things said and done by Celgar at the time the employment contract was formed, (G.F.) reasonably believed that he was being offered an opportunity to potentially end his career with Celgar, in a position which although identical to the one he was leaving, offered greater job satisfaction, and considerably better remuneration and benefits.”

Supreme Court of British Columbia

Notice period and mitigation

Regarding the notice period, the court applied the Bardal factors, which consider the character of the employment, length of service, age of the employee, and availability of similar employment.

The court determined that due to the inducement and the limited availability of comparable positions, G.F. was entitled to a 12-month notice period. This decision was based on similar cases where inducement extended the notice period for short-term employees.

On the issue of mitigation, the court acknowledged that while his initial job search efforts were minimal, Celgar failed to prove that equivalent employment was available during that time. Therefore, no deductions were made for failure to mitigate.

Finally, the court dismissed Ferweda’s claim for medical expenses due to insufficient evidence. It also awarded costs to G.F. at Scale B.

Lessons from this ruling

  1. Inducement Considerations: Employers must be cautious when recruiting employees from secure positions. Promises and representations made during recruitment can significantly impact notice period entitlements if the employee is later terminated without cause.
  2. Clear Employment Contracts: Ensure that employment contracts include clear terms regarding termination and notice periods to avoid disputes. This can provide both parties with a better understanding of their rights and obligations.
  3. Support for Terminated Employees: Providing assistance and resources to terminated employees in their job search efforts can mitigate potential claims of insufficient mitigation efforts and reduce potential liability.

For more information, see Ferweda v Mercer Celgar Limited Partnership, 2024 BCSC 844 (CanLII).

You may also like

About Us

HR Law Canada is dedicated to covering labour and employment news for lawyers, HR professionals and employers. Published by North Wall Media.