A job for life is not just for fun! - THECHOWANIECS.COM

A job for life is not just for fun!

Louis Lafleur and Thomas Stelmazuk-Côté, the authors of this article.  Source: Langlois website

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Louis Lafleur and Thomas Stelmazuk-Côté, the authors of this article. Source: Langlois website

In a decision handed down on July 13, the Superior Court of Quebec, under the pen of the Honorable jcs Marc Saint-Pierre, ordered the reinstatement of an employee who had been guaranteed “lifetime” employment by his employer (Gloutnay v. Rozon 2022 QCCS 2578). This judgment creates a precedent in Quebec civil law, by calling into question the idea that the employment contract is of limited duration and by affirming that a court of common law has the power to order the reinstatement of an employee in a purely civil remedy. This is an astonishing decision that could interest the Court of Appeal.

The decision in brief

The plaintiff, Mr. André Gloutnay, was employed as an archivist by Groupe Juste Pour Rire Inc. (the “Employer”). In 2019, when he was 53 years old and had 25 years of service, Mr. Gloutnay was fired, as the Employer no longer needed his services. He then receives a severance pay equivalent to 12 months’ salary.

Believing to benefit from a lifetime employment guarantee, Mr. Gloutnay sued the Employer. In particular, he asks to be reinstated in his former job. In addition to the Employer, Mr. Gloutnay is also suing its subsidiaries for which his services were provided or lent, as well as the former founding president, Mr. Gilbert Rozon, who would have granted him the guarantee of lifelong employment. . In this regard, the Court emphasizes that only the Employer’s liability can be engaged, and that the lifetime employment commitment made by Mr. Rozon was not personally assumed by him.

The Court then seeks to ascertain whether such a guarantee of “lifetime” employment is valid, considering that the Civil Code of Quebec (“CCQ”) provides that an employment contract must be for a fixed term or an indefinite term. In succinctly weighing the evidence, the Court considers that the common intention of the parties was to create a one-way guarantee of lifelong employment, obliging only the Employer. The Court chose not to address certain important issues, in particular how to align a unilateral commitment relating to an essential condition of the employment contract (duration) with the fundamentally bilateral nature of the employment contract as a whole.

Although the defendants pointed out that the civil courts had never reinstated an employee whose position no longer existed, the Court concluded that the application for reinstatement must be granted. For the judge, the parties provided for a commitment from the Employer to guarantee the plaintiff’s lifetime employment, always in the same position. The Court thus rejects the Employer’s claim that the Plaintiff cannot be reinstated in a position that no longer exists, since this position was abolished in contravention of the Employer’s undertaking. In these circumstances, the Court is of the opinion that there is nothing to prevent following up on the will clearly expressed by the parties by ordering reparation in kind, although the judge recognizes that this is an exceptional remedy and a precedent in Quebec in a purely civil context.

In its decision, the Court ordered the Employer to pay the plaintiff his full salary from the end of the indemnity which had been granted to him. It also awards moral damages of $20,000 to the plaintiff, judging that the contractual fault committed by the Employer, namely to have knowingly breached the employment contract in itself, caused significant prejudice to the plaintiff, the latter having testified that he thought of ending his life after the announcement of his end of employment.

A unique precedent in Quebec law

This case calls into question several fundamental principles of labor law in Quebec.

By recognizing the validity of a guarantee of lifelong employment, the Superior Court opens the door to possible important debates, in particular with regard to the interpretation to be made of the provisions of the CCQ providing that the employment contract is for a period of time. fixed or indefinite term. The question also arises as to whether there are, in Quebec law, sui generis employment contracts that escape the rules normally applicable under civil law. Finally, we can also anticipate important questions about the very definition of the employment contract, which presupposes that the employee commits for a limited time.

Beyond these issues, it is the reinstatement ordered by the Court in a purely civil case that raises the most questions. Never before has a common law court ordered the reinstatement of an employee in such a context. For a long time, case law has been consistent and unanimous regarding the fact that the Superior Court does not have the power to order the reinstatement of the employee in a strictly civil remedy.

It is obvious that the fate of this decision by Judge Marc Saint-Pierre will be of interest to the legal community. Rest assured that we will follow up on this decision and the interpretation that the courts will make of it in the future.

About the authors

Louis LafleurCHRP, is a member of the labor and employment law group of Langlois Avocats in the Montreal office; Thomas Stelmazuk-Cote is also a lawyer with Langlois Avocats in Montreal.

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