“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” might be the lesson from the recent B.C. Supreme Court decision in Golob v Fort St. John (City), 2021 BCSC 2192. The Plaintiff, who was a Deputy Fire Chief of the City of Fort St. John’s Fire Department, made numerous remarks, verbally and in writing, that undermined the leadership and authority of his superior, the Department’s Fire Chief. The Court found that the Defendant was justified in terminating the Plaintiff for his insolent behaviour.
In the employment law context, insolence is abusive or disrespectful language or conduct directed by an employee at their employer or manager. Here, the Plaintiff vocally disapproved of the Fire Chief’s ability to lead the Department. The Plaintiff was heard referring to the Fire Chief in derogatory terms, for example calling him a “fucking idiot” with no experience or education. At other times, the Plaintiff openly questioned the Fire Chief’s leadership. Despite the strong language used, the Court held such comments would, on their own, have required a warning before termination would be justified.
What tipped the scales were text messages found on the Plaintiff’s company cellphone after his termination. The Plaintiff, who was on a hiring committee, had been texting with a friend who was a candidate. In those texts, the Plaintiff again expressed disdain for the Fire Chief, calling him “a prick” and more importantly, accused the Fire Chief of treating that candidate unfairly and of favouring another candidate. The Court found this was a breach of fundamental terms of the Plaintiff’s employment agreement and his duty to promote the interests of the City.
This case is an example of the breadth of misconduct that can constitute just cause for termination. It also emphasizes the importance of thorough investigations, even after termination. In situations where an employee has been openly vocal about their disdain for the employer or manager, employers should look for additional evidence of insolent or disloyal comments in that employee’s company devices, social media posts or emails.
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