Employers often tell me they feel like employees have ALL the rights in the employment relationship. While that isn’t entirely true, I certainly understand why it can seem that way. But here’s some good news – the British Columbia Court of Appeal recently came down solidly on the side of the employer when an employee went over the line with disrespectful, insubordinate communications. The Court found that the employer terminated
for cause, as this type of communication is irreconcilable with continuing employment.
Sukhwinder Grewal managed various branches of the Khalsa Credit Union for 11 years. Then in 2001, Dalbir Sohi was appointed as the credit union’s CEO. A “strained” relationship between Grewal and Sohi developed almost immediately. Sohi criticized Grewal’s work; she considered the criticisms to be unwarranted; her responses were characterized by Sohi as disrespectful and insubordinate.
The final straw was the negotiation of Grewal’s personal mortgage in 2005. Sohi believed there were “irregularities” resulting in Grewal obtaining an interest rate below market rates. He sent a memo to the credit union’s conduct review committee in which he described her “insubordinate behaviour, mortgage rate scandal, irregularities and exceptions.”
Before the matter could be properly investigated, Grewal went on disability leave for 11 months. When she returned to work, she attended a meeting on August 31, 2006 in which the mortgage issue was discussed. The next day, her lawyer wrote to the credit union, copying the board of directors and the B.C. Deputy Superintendant of Credit Unions and Trusts, demanding a written apology; an acknowledgement that Sohi had acted in bad faith by accusing Grewal of mortgage irregularities and making “baseless allegations” of performance issues; and an undertaking that this heinous conduct would not be repeated in the future. In a final salvo, the letter threatened legal action if the credit union did not comply with the demands being made.
The credit union took the position that no apology would be issued and that Grewal’s behaviour had made any continuation of the employment relationship “virtually impossible”.
The trial judge and a unanimous panel of the Court of Appeal agreed, finding and confirming respectively that Grewal’s employment was terminated for cause. The September 1st letter “was disrespectful and inflammatory. The accusations were serious and covered most aspects of her working relationship.” What’s more, it was copied to the board of directors and the regulatory body overseeing the credit union, with what the judge characterized as an obvious intention to damage Sohi. “The criticism of Mr. Sohi was disrespectful in tone and language and was irreconcilable with Ms Grewal’s continued employment.”
In a healthy working relationship, employees can and should convey concerns, dissatisfaction, even disagreement, to their supervisors. However, as I have said before, difficult exchanges must be undertaken with professionalism, respect and civility. And that applies to BOTH parties in the employment relationship.
If you have any questions or would like more information on this topic, please contact Beth Traynor
or call 519-672-2121.