Over the past several weeks, we’ve had a number of customers present us with situations that aren’t strictly situations where they’ve been dismissed, but where there jobs have changed so much that they feel like they’re being squeezed out. It’s no surprise to me. I’ve not conducted any formal studies, but I suspect that with all the reorganizing going on in the workplace over the past year, many people’s jobs have changed a lot.
There are circumstances though where big changes to a job might be considered a “constructive dismissal”.
Employers can fire employees in several ways.
Your boss might actually say, “You’re fired.” Or your boss may fire you in a much more subtle way. In some cases, an employer might change your job so significantly that you are basically forced to quit.
Let’s say, for example, that you’re a line supervisor at a factory and you supervise a large production team – say thirty people. Your employer tells you that because of a restructuring, they want you to work as a frontline production worker. You’ll lose your team and your title, and they’ll reduce your pay back down to that of the frontline worker.
In this situation, even though your employer may not have said “you’re fired,” you may have the right to say that the changes to your job were so significant that it’s like you were fired.
Lawyers call this situation “constructive dismissal.”
In order for it to be considered “constructive dismissal” the change has to have the following characteristics:
- It has to affect only one part of the entire organization – you, or your group.
- It has to substantially alter an essential term of the employment contract. That is, you’re being asked to do something that’s fundamentally different than what you and your employer agreed you would be doing when hired.
The most common situations that are considered to be “constructive dismissal” are:
1. A change in the amount that you’re paid for your service – that isn’t a raise.
2. A change in the geographical location
3. Changes in responsibilities, and
4. Changes in the working conditions
If you were “constructively dismissed,” you may be entitled to the same package you would have received if you had actually been fired. The database and tools at http://www.FiredWithoutCause.com can help you find out exactly what you are entitled to.
Daniel A. Lublin, a Toronto based employment lawyer, also addresses constructive dismissal in the Q&A section of his blog: http://blog.toronto-employmentlawyer.com/toronto_employment_lawyer/constructive_dismissal/
Farber v. Royal Trust Co.,  1 S.C.R. 846 is an important case addressing constructive dismissal, it can be found at: http://www.canlii.org/eliisa/highlight.do?language=en&searchTitle=Search+all+CanLII+Databases&path=/en/ca/scc/doc/1997/1997canlii387/1997canlii387.html