Just days before her planned vacation, Janet Williamson found herself in a pickle. She was summoned to a meeting and told that if she took her vacation as planned, she would lose her job.
Williamson, a health care worker at the Ritz Lutheran Villa, a retirement home in Mitchell, Ontario, had agreed to join an 87-year-old resident on a Mediterranean cruise when the resident’s partner cancelled the last minute before their trip. Williamson received approval for the time off and agreed to step in.
However, a few days before the cruise, Williamson was called to a meeting with a newly-appointed CEO and told that her plans were a violation of her employer’s policy on accepting gifts from residents and given an ultimatum: If she went on the trip, she would be fired.
Williamson explained that it was too late for the resident to change plans and offered to pay for the trip on her own as a solution. Her employer disagreed, arguing that a vacation with a resident would be a conflict of interest.
During her 13 years with the Villa, Williamson had often been commended for her compassion toward the residents. She felt this was another example and believed that if she cancelled the trip, the resident wouldn’t be able to travel alone. She refused to cancel and left on the cruise as planned.
Williamson returned to a letter of termination. Believing her actions were justified, she sued. Recently, she won her case. The judge found that the Villa was convinced this was a conflict of interest, without regard to what its policies actually stated and had resorted to relying on its policy in a “cascade of excuses” to justify its decision. Further, the judge said that Williamson was not guilty of insubordination or disobedience because the Villa’s directives were unreasonable. Despite knowing about the cruise for weeks, it waited until the last minute to raise its concerns.
Canadian courts continue to consider proportionality when judging whether discipline was justified.Defying instructions from your employer can be cause for dismissal – but only if the instructions are reasonable.
– Daniel A. Lublin is an employment lawyer with the law firm Whitten & Lublin LLP. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org