Terminating an employee for expressing his political opinions at work can be costly for an employer. This is what an employer learned after being ordered to pay 91 073,46 $ to an employee following his termination for sharing his political opinions in the workplace.
In this decision (2015 QCCRT 0399), the « Commission des Relations du Travail » (Commission) held that, not only must the corporation reinstate the plaintiff to his previous position, but the plaintiff was also entitled to compensation for loss of salary, moral as well as punitive damages. As stated in Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms (Charter), an individual has the right to freely express his opinion, and any unlawful interference with such freedom entitles the victim to compensation. Although the Commission, an administrative tribunal, has the authority to order the payment of both moral and punitive damages under the Act respecting labour standards, it is relatively uncommon for the Commission to grant such damages.
In this case, while at work, the plaintiff discussed the upcoming 2012 election with his co-workers. He stated that the leader of the “Parti Québécois” (a separatist political party in Québec), Pauline Marois, would be elected, that Quebec would become a country and that this situation would be difficult on Anglophones in Quebec. One of his English-speaking co-workers was offended by this statement and accused the plaintiff of wanting to throw him out of his own country.
The next morning, the employee was called into the Executive Director’s office and saw a termination letter open on the Director’s computer. She then told him that their business did not need politicians, and consequently terminated his employment without further details. Additionally, his record of employment referred to “intimidation” as the reason for his discharge. Unsurprisingly, the employee was shocked to learn of his dismissal, and experienced various problems following his unforeseen termination.
In its ruling, the Commission emphasized its serious disapproval of the corporation’s actions and the corporation’s delay in admitting its fault. The Commission held the corporation’s actions to be a severe violation of the Charter and ordered the payment of damages.
Given the Commission’s authority to grant moral and punitive damages, employers should be cautious when terminating employees to ensure that their actions are not considered a violation of the rights and freedoms protected by the Charter.
Written with the assistance of William Provencher-Campeau, summer student.