By Sheryl Smolkin
Read this article and comments at Moneyville.ca
You’ve booked your holiday, the cottage rented and the car is packed. Your boss calls and says he needs you in the office. If you say no, can he fire you for ‘just cause’?
An Alberta court found an employee fired in similar circumstances was wrongfully dismissed and awarded her a total of $16,376.70.
Lerae Bigelow was a day supervisor with the oil field service company, T.C. Mobile Vessels. She arranged her vacation, but at the last minute was told to work a night shift in a subordinate position, which would have meant delaying her holiday. She found someone else to work the shift and left, believing all was well.
Her boss Trevor Bigelow (a cousin) denied knowledge of her vacation plans and maintained she agreed to work the shift and later changed her mind. As a result, the company fired her for just cause.
In an action for wrongful dismissal brought by Bigelow, Provincial Court Judge D.G. Redman noted that there was no formal employment contract or any written policy regarding booking time off, vacations, discipline, acts justifying termination or calculation of notice periods or severance pay.
Ms. Bigelow said she notified the company of her vacation plans on entries in her day timer, and the judge said her testimony was internally consistent and delivered in a clear and forthright manner. He accepted her version of the events, including that she found out she was fired from co-workers while still on vacation and that her boss confirmed this by text message before she returned.
Judge Redman said an employer can ask an employee to re-book a vacation, but he must be reasonable. In this case Ms. Bigelow was able to find a substitute at no additional cost, and she had pre-scheduled her vacation time. Therefore he ruled the dismissal was not justified.
The award for damages ($16,376) represented three months of salary; three months of car expenses; the loss of her meal allowance for three months; and $1,000 because Mr. Bigelow “failed in his obligation of good faith and fair dealing” by terminating her while she was on vacation and advising her by text message.
But no damage award could ever be enough to compensate you for the shock of coming back from a vacation to find you are unemployed. Clear, well-documented communication of vacation plans between you and your boss is the best way to avoid this kind of misunderstanding.
And if you do delay or cancel your vacation in a serious emergency, you can reasonably expect the compay to compensate you for any financial losses as a result of your change of plans. But when it comes to how you are going to make it up to the rest of your family, you are definitely on your own.