Having the terms of your job forcibly changed is usually taboo. But the tables are turned when advance warning is provided.
Most employees believe their jobs can seldom vary without their consent. As an Ontario judge recently confirmed, those employees are mistaken.
Darrell Wronko believed his consent was needed before his employer could significantly vary the terms of his contract. Just promoted, Wronko had agreed to a new contract containing a term that he would receive two years’ salary should he lose his job. Shortly after, however, a new company president was hired who believed Wronko had negotiated a “sweetheart” deal. Wronko was asked to sign an altered contract that would pay him about 70 per cent less if he was fired. Not surprisingly, Wronko declined to sign, believing the company could only implement such a change if it obtained his consent. In response, the president sent Wronko a letter giving him two years’ notice that the clause in his contract would be unilaterally amended.
When the two-year clock ran out, Wronko was told to either accept the revised contract or there was no job for him. Believing such a change could not be imposed, Wronko treated the situation as though he had been terminated. But Wronko wasn’t terminated. The Court found his employer had a right to vary the terms of his contract by providing him with sufficient notice.
The lessons are clear: If given appropriate notice of a change, be prepared to accept it or look for another job. The period of notice needed for an employer to impose a significant change is the same needed for an employer to terminate an employee. As Wronko had negotiated for a two-year severance package, the Court deemed the two-year warning appropriate. Anything less would have led to a different result.
Employers can usually impose minor changes without warning. However, each case must be assessed to see how integral the change was to the employee’s job.
Take notes of conversations. Although credibility was not a turning point in Wronko’s trial, the Court preferred his version of the events because he had made notes after disputed conversations.