Case In Point

Court Finds Employer Had Cause to Dismiss Employee After He Deleted Employer Website

Case In Point

Court Finds Employer Had Cause to Dismiss Employee After He Deleted Employer Website

Date: February 22, 2023

In Park v Costco Wholesale Canada Ltd., the Ontario Superior Court held a former employee (Mr. Park) had engaged in wilful misconduct that was incompatible with the fundamental terms of his employment relationship with his employer, Costco, and that Costco was therefore justified in terminating his employment for cause.

The employee had worked for Costco for approximately 20 years, and at the time of termination was an assistant buyer. During the latter part of his employment, the employee had built a Google cloud-based website for the toys department, which served as an online platform that allowed users within the department to easily share files with one another. There was no dispute that the website was Costco property.

The employee deliberately deleted the website on two separate occasions, asserting that he did so because he was angry with management’s lack of communication with respect to their intention to make use of the website. In the course of deleting the website, the employee also engaged in a series of emails that the Court noted were insubordinate and disrespectful towards management. His employment was then terminated for cause.

The employee claimed that he was wrongfully dismissed and sought 24 months’ pay in lieu of reasonable notice and extended health and pension benefits. He also sought damages for breach of his human rights as well as aggravated damages.

The Court found that the deliberate deletion of the website amounted to damage or destruction of Costco property and was contrary to the terms of the Employment Agreement between the parties. The Court stated:

[80]      At this stage of the assessment, I must determine whether Mr. Park’s misconduct was sufficiently serious to warrant dismissal. Three measures are suggested by the Supreme Court in McKinley: (i) did the misconduct violate an essential term of the employment contract; (ii) did it breach the faith inherent to the work relationship; or (iii) was it fundamentally inconsistent with Mr. Park’s obligations to Costco.

[81]      On any of these three measures, I find that Costco was justified in dismissing Mr. Park. Mr. Park’s misconduct cannot be reconciled with his employment obligations. His actions were not mere errors in judgment; they were intentional, discrete acts involving the destruction or attempted destruction of company property, insubordination, and sending a misleading email. These actions were committed in the face of his obligation to act with integrity and honesty in the discharge of his duties as an assistant buyer. The Employee Agreement provided that wilful destruction of property and insubordination could result in termination of employment. Mr. Park breached the Employment Agreement and thereby repudiated his employment contract by engaging in conduct incompatible with his obligations thereunder.

[82]      Mr. Park’s misconduct consisted of four discrete acts. The misconduct was not insignificant. It was serious. Costco could no longer repose trust in Mr. Park. As Mr. Park himself said, only trustworthy employees can be entrusted with the autonomy given to an assistant buyer. Costco’s trust is essential to the effective performance of the functions of assistant buyer.

Accordingly, the Court held that Costco was justified in dismissing the employee for just cause and dismissed the action with costs.

The Court’s decision is helpful to employers as it provides an overall summary of the principles of law relating to termination for cause, and sets out the types of actions that may amount to a finding of “just cause.”

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