The B.C. Court of Appeal recently gave employers a much-needed reminder: they’re entitled to reasonable notice too.

While most employees are familiar with the fact that they are entitled to reasonable notice if they’re terminated without cause, employers sometimes forget that the obligation works both ways. An employee cannot simply stop showing up to work without giving their employer time to prepare for the employee’s departure.

In Consbec v Walker, the Court of Appeal considered the case of Peter Walker, a former employee of Consbec Inc., a blasting and drilling company operating throughout Canada. While working as Consbec’s only employee in its Kamloops’ office, Walker abruptly quit one day in June of 2002, leaving the office for good without having given Consbec any prior warning. Walker incorporated a competitor company a month later.

A lower court initially awarded Consbec $56,116.11 in damages for Walker’s failure to give the company notice. Ultimately, the Court of Appeal scaled this amount back. The Court ruled that an employee who quits without giving notice is only responsible for those damages that flow from his or her failure to give notice – they are not on the hook for all the costs associated with their resignation in general. Importantly, in its decision, the Court of Appeal determined that Walker legally owed his employer a reasonable notice of one month before leaving.

Still, the end result of the case does shed light on why employers don’t usually bother pursuing these types of claims. The Court of Appeal ultimately found that the reasonable costs that Consbec incurred, from sending a last-minute employee to Kamloops to fill in for Walker, were more than offset by the money the company saved not paying Walker’s salary for a month. Thus, the damage award was set aside.

So, employers should beware. If they’ve been left in the lurch by an employee, they do have potential recourse. However, it’s important that they seriously consider whether a former employee’s wrongful quitting actually cost them enough to justify a legal proceeding. Otherwise, an employer can only hope for – at most – a symbolic victory.

Written with the assistance of John Schudlo, articling student.

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