Termination of a Supervisor for Out of Control Subordinates: Think you have cause? Think again.
A company’s team of people will often have supervising levels of personnel who are, as far as upper management is concerned, responsible for the successes, failures and actions of their subordinates; if a supervisor’s team member is out of line or has blemished the reputation of the company, internally or externally, it is not uncommon for the accountable supervisor to be made to answer for that team member’s actions, possibly including termination. With great power comes great responsibility, right? Maybe, at least from a corporate standpoint, a supervisor will be taken to task by the company, and maybe he or she will be fired, but the company still better be prepared to pay the supervisor notice for termination pay. At least, that’s what occurred with the recent Alberta case:Christie v. CitiFinancial Canada Inc., 2015 ABQB 487. In Christie, the Plaintiff was a long time employee who was involved with an incident that occurred at a two day regional meeting of about 80 employees. The attendees each shared a hotel room with one other person at the meeting. The evening of the meeting included an annual social affair. Two drink tickets were provided to the attendees and further alcohol could be purchased at the employees’ own cost. The plaintiff’s subordinate, a branch manager, began exhibiting loud and obnoxious signs of intoxication. The subordinate and his roommate then had an after-party in their room, during which he stripped naked (except for a cowboy hat), and engaged in further conduct that I will leave for people to read in the decision itself. Of note was that the Plaintiff did make a number of attempts to control his subordinate. As would be expected, rumours began to fly over the next couple of weeks. The Plaintiff was terminated for cause shortly after for not taking sufficient steps to stop his subordinate and not taking sufficient steps to determine the effect on other attendees post-incident. The Court found that Citi was not justified in terminating the plaintiff and made particular note that the Plaintiff had taken steps to try and stop his subordinate (pulling him aside to talk with him, telling him to put his clothes on) and the Plaintiff’s duty did not go, nor would it have been appropriate, to physically restrain him, although the Court did reprimand the Plaintiff for not bringing up the incident and the possibility of a sexual harassment complaint with human resources. The Plaintiff was given about 16 months pay, with the Court noting that a normal range of notice for a management employee with 12 years of service is between 10 - 18 months. The Plaintiff fell at the higher end of the range due to his “upper management”s status. He was also entitled to his bonus, despite language in the bonus policy that attempted to circumvent payment at management’s discretion at the time of payout. So, what can we learn from Christie:
Supervisors will not necessarily be responsible for their subordinates’ actions;
Policies around bonus payouts are not necessarily determinative on whether a terminated employee will be entitled to the earned portion of a bonus at termination;
Supervisors should be trained and regular, documented discussions should occur regarding how a supervisor is expected to approach a situation where a subordinate is acting inappropriately;
Knee-jerk reactions to an already difficult situation could result in an unexpected and costly termination notice payout; and,
A supervisor who attempts to act reasonably, but within limits to address a subordinate’s actions can likely feel safe in their decisions.
Sandquist Law & Construction Project Consulting has extensive experience in dealing with personnel termination and employment matters. Please contact Corey Sandquist if you have further questions or would like to discuss how we can assist.