An Offer They Can’t Refuse – The Dangers Of Recruiting High Level Employees
10, January 10, 2016 - Filed in: Court Cases
An employer is paying the price for dismissing an employee who was recruited with an attractive job offer.
Bruce Rodgers had been the president of a transportation company for 11 years when CEVA Freight Canada Corporation approached him with a job opportunity. After being flown twice to Houston, attending 7 interviews, and meeting the CEO of the global parent company, Rodgers was offered a position as CEVA's Country Manager. He turned it down, and was given a second offer with a higher salary and a signing bonus, which he accepted. Rodgers was also told that he was required to invest in the company to demonstrate his commitment, so he borrowed $102,000 to purchase CEVA's shares.
A little less than 3 years later, Rodgers was dismissed by CEVA without cause. He was paid 2 weeks' salary, along with severance of just under one additional week and outstanding vacation pay. His employment agreement had a termination provision that stated: "[y]our employment may also be terminated by our providing you notice, pay in lieu of notice, or a combination of both, at our option, based on your length of service and applicable legal requirements." CEVA argued that while Rodgers was entitled to some damages, they should be limited by the fact that this provision highlighted length of service and Rodgers was there for less than 3 years.
The Court disagreed, finding that a reasonable notice period for Rodgers would have been 14 months. In the end, CEVA was ordered to pay Rodgers $345,985.
While the Court acknowledged that Rodgers' short length of service was a relevant factor, it found that it did not deserve any particular weight because the employment agreement was not clear that his length of service would outweigh all other considerations. Instead, the Court turned its focus to the way Rodgers was recruited to the position.
The case serves as an important reminder that even where job security is not explicitly promised, or even discussed, the method of recruitment can be viewed by the Court as an implicit promise of job security. Here, the Court noted the "attractive" financial package Rodgers was offered, and that this was an improvement over the original offer that he declined. The Court was also persuaded by the fact that Rodgers was forced to make an investment in the company, giving him the impression that he could expect above average job security. As such, Rodgers was "induced" to join CEVA, and deserved a longer notice period.
Since inducement tends to be considered alongside other factors, it is difficult to gauge how it will affect the Court's assessment of the notice period. In this case, there were other issues at play, including the employee's age, his high level of responsibility, and the difficulty in finding a replacement position. However, the Court was clear that CEVA's recruitment of Rodgers from a secure position of employment contributed to the long notice period awarded.
Employers should be aware of the unspoken commitments they make when recruiting employees who are already employed in secure positions. An employer's efforts to convince someone to leave employment to join its organization may commit that employer to more than it had ever intended on termination. In these cases, it is particularly important to consider termination at the point of hiring, and to give serious thought to whether an appropriately drafted termination provision should be included as part of the employment contract, to avoid disputes as to entitlements on termination of employment.
Note: This a reprint of an article by Jon Pinkus of Dentons (Canada).