Dismissals Without Just Cause are Unjust under the Canada Labour Code: The Supreme Court of Canada’s Decision in Wilson v. Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd  S.C.J. No. 29
After a long anticipated wait, on July 14, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”), delivered decision affirming that non-unionized federal employees are entitled to comparable protections to those afforded to unionized employees.
Mr. Joseph Wilson (“Mr. Wilson”) worked for Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (“AECL”) for four and a half (4.5) years. Mr. Wilson was a non-unionized federal employee who in November 2009, was dismissed without cause, a clear disciplinary record and received six-months of severance pay. Mr. Wilson filed a complaint of “Unjust dismissal” under section 240(1) of the Canada Labour Code (“Code”). As a result of the complaint, an investigation took place, and “AECL sent a letter in March 2010 saying that he was ‘terminated on a non-cause basis and was provided a generous dismissal package that well exceeded the statutory requirements.’” (para 9)
Mr. Wilson believed his dismissal was a result of previously filing a complaint of improper procurement practices by AECL.
Relying on a previous federal court decision, the Adjudicator held that, having no reason to terminate Mr. Wilson, his complaint should be allowed. Essentially, an employer cannot avoid the Code’s unjust dismissal provisions by providing generous severance payments.
The Federal Court of Appeal, reviewing the matter on a standard of correctness agreed with the Application Judge and the proposition that federally regulated employees could be dismissed without just cause as long as they were given notice or severance pay required under the Code.
The Supreme Court of Canada’s Decision
In a 6-3 decisions the majority affirmed that the appropriate standard of review is reasonableness. From this, the majority found the Adjudicator’s decision was reasonable. This decision emphasized that the purpose of the Part III of the Code was to afford non-unionized federal employees protections for the dismissal without just cause. Severance pay does not fall under one of these acceptable outcomes; rather it deprives an employee of the remedies made available by Parliament.
The impact of this decision should not be overlooked. This decision will affect more than half a million non-unionized federal employees rights and remedies. Without the protection of the Code, such employees would not have access to the discretionary remedies contemplated by the Legislature. Instead, for example, similar to unionized employees, non-unionized federal employees have the protections of the Code including the right to seek reinstatement with back pay.