Refusal to Work and Sign List of Duties Does Not Justify Termination for Cause

Written by on November 21, 2013 in Employment Law Blog, Terminations
Refusal to Work

In McAulay v. Fauquier and District Golf Club (“McAulay”), the British Columbia Provincial Court found that the Employer was not justified in terminating the Employee for cause in response to the Employee refusing to sign an updated list of employment duties.

In May of 2012, the Employee began her 6th season with the Employer, and during this season the Employee was employed in the position of Club House Attendant. While in previous years the Employee had been required to perform outdoor work for the Employer, the Employee understood that for the current season her employment duties consisted of in-house chores for the Employer’s Club House. However, prior to beginning her employment, the Employee requested further clarification of what her employment duties would be. Such clarification was not provided and the Employee began her new season of employment with the Employer on May 18, 2012.

In June of 2012, members of the Club House expressed concern to the Employer that the Employee appeared to not have any work to perform. Given that the Club House was slow with customers, on June 6, 2012, the Employer informed the Employee that she should be prepared to work outside. The Employee refused to do so and left the workplace. As a result, the Employer created a written list of duties to be performed by Club House Attendants, which included a number of outdoor duties including washing and cleaning outhouses, emptying garbage cans, servicing ball washers, and other work on the golf course as needed.

On June 8, 2012, the Employer requested that the Employee sign the list of duties referred to above, which the Employee refused to do. As a result, the Employer terminated the Employee for cause.

At Trial, the British Columbia Provincial Court determined “that a person employed as a Club House attendant at the Golf Club could be expected to be asked to work outside the Club House from time to time,” and therefore “it was not an unreasonable request on the part of her employer to ask her to undertake some outdoor work.” However, the Court clarified that “the question is whether her initial refusal to work outside pending a clarification of her job duties and her second refusal to sign the list of job duties proffered to her at the June 8 meeting, constitutes a breach of her employment contract such that her employer was justified in dismissing her without the so-called cushion of a notice period.” After a review of case law on the issue of termination for cause, the Court found that given the scope of the Employee’s duties as a Club House Attendant required clarification “it cannot be said her job duties were so clear that a refusal to work outside prior to the June 8 meeting would have justified her dismissal” and that the Employer “was in no way justified in dismissing [the Employee] simply because she refused to sign the list. It was clearly not an aspect of her employment contract.”

Impact of Decision on Employers

The above decision highlights the contextual approach that must be made taken by employers when determining when and how to terminate. While an employee’s refusal to perform their employment duties may result in a termination for cause, the surrounding circumstances in which the refusal occurs will impact on whether an employer is justified in terminating the employee for cause. As a result, and given the damages that an employer may face if found to have been unjustified in terminating an employee for cause, employers should ensure they obtain the assistance of experienced Employment Law counsel prior to proceeding with such terminations.

Impact of Decision on Employees

While employees do not want to be faced with a termination for cause, whether justified or not, the above case demonstrates the importance for employees to seek legal assistance from Employment Law counsel when such allegations have been made by their employer. While the conduct engaged in by the employee may not be reasonable and inappropriate at the workplace, this does not necessarily result in the employer being justified in terminating the employee without providing any notice. In such circumstances, employees should ensure that they obtain a legal opinion to determine whether the high threshold of termination for cause has been established.

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