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What Can We Learn From Hydro One’s Firing of a Heckler?

03 Jun 2015

An employee has been fired for what seems to be an increasing trend these days, namely for bad behaviour that did not take place at work but on their own personal time.

Hydro One has fired an employee who was caught making rude and derogatory on-air comments to a female television reporter during a Toronto soccer game last week. Unfortunately for this employee, his behaviour was on camera and posted all over social media. Once Hydro One got wind of his on-air antics, he was promptly fired.

The employee who was fired was an assistant management engineer at Hydro One who had a salary of more than $100,000 a year. He was not a union member.

We first must distinguish this case from the notorious firing that was also in the news recently – the dismissal of Jian Ghomeshi from the CBC. True, there are similarities such as in both instances the employees were fired for conduct that took place outside of the workplace. However, in the case of Jian Ghomeshi, he was a well known and popular radio host with the CBC who was alleged to have committed sexual assault and was charged criminally. Jian Ghomeshi was arguably the face of his radio program with the CBC and highly connected to the type of “brand” that the CBC was trying to promote.

In this case, it may be that Hydro One is not necessarily in a particularly strong position to argue that their firing of the employee for “just cause” can hold water. This may be a case in which Hydro One will be forced to pay the dismissed employee wrongful dismissal damages. For instance, the court could refuse to rule that the employer had “just cause” to fire the employee for a number of reasons because, for instance, this incident may have been a singular mistake on the part of the employee (perhaps fueled by alcohol) that took place outside of the workplace. The employee may have had an untarnished record and reputation in the workplace. It would also be particularly difficult to argue that this was a high-profile employee with a lot of publicity such that his conduct would cause the “brand” of Hydro One to suffer. These scenarios are speculation on our part, but this is the type of reasoning a judge would have to impart on.

On the other hand, this possible singular mistake was very public and got a huge amount of media attention. His actual firing by Hydro One was even reported in the media. The employee’s conduct was universally condemned by the public and he was even banned from attending at any more Toronto soccer games. Assuming all the facts are proven, it would not be a stretch to assert that what this employee did was highly offensive such that it is not something that Hydro One (who is well known to the public) wants to be associated with any way.

Our Thoughts

The employee, especially if he has worked there for any length of time, will probably be asking for termination pay and that he was fired unjustly. It remains to be seen whether this matter will proceed to trial or whether it will settle as most employment law cases do.

The above article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have concerns with regard to the foregoing issues, please make an appointment with one of our lawyers or a qualified legal practitioner elsewhere.