Employers play roulette with wrongful dismissal and disability benefits

Wrongful Dismissal without cause occurs all the time, usually because the employer is trying to save a few dollars by cutting off benefits, namely disability benefits. But, if the employee becomes disabled within the lawful notice period, the employer could be responsible for a huge payout. Even if the employee finds another job and becomes disabled through illness or injury, the previous employer could be held responsible if the employee’s new job doesn't provide disability benefits.

Employer guilty of wrongful dismissal pays the price

Take the example of a wrongful dismissal case involving a 55-year-old cabinet maker and a local kitchen manufacturing shop. After 24 years of service, the employee was fired without cause and lost all his disability benefits. He received the bare minimum pay in lieu of notice for 32 weeks and severance, plus benefits for eight weeks. The employee found a new job within two weeks of being fired, but the pay was significantly less and didn't include any disability benefits whatsoever. A year and a half later, he was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx.

He sued the kitchen manufacturer for wrongful dismissal and the disability benefits to which he was entitled. He was awarded 22 months for lost employment income, short term disability benefits for 17 weeks, and long-term disability benefits to the age of 65. He was also awarded punitive damages amounting to $15,000. The employer appealed the decision.

The trial judge determined that wrongful dismissal had occurred, and the employee was entitled to the disability coverage as outlined by the company’s benefit plan. The employer argued that he didn't qualify for disability coverage as he was never "totally disabled", and there was no evidence that he would remain disabled until his 65th birthday. They also stated that after the employee's cancer was successfully removed, he didn't seek alternative employment or re-training. This disqualified him from any disability benefits according to their company contract.

Overwhelming medical evidence supported by the testimonies of attending physicians clearly established that the employee was more than qualified for full benefits. While it was true that his cancer had been successfully removed after several surgeries, the employee would require further surgeries, post-surgery care and radiation in the future. Damage to his larynx caused breathing difficulties, intermittent loss of voice and a decrease in his strength and energy. Expecting him to return to work in a dusty, noisy industrial environment or re-train and find new work was ridiculous, and the employer’s arguments were rejected.

Wrongful dismissal and unfair treatment infuriates judge

The judge was disgusted not only with the wrongful dismissal, but by the employer's behaviour during litigation, and for this reason awarded the employee $15,000 in punitive damages. The employer’s appeal was successful because the employee hadn't claimed punitive damages and therefore, the judge didn't have the right to award them. It’s too bad that the employee didn't make this claim or provide evidence to defend the appeal because he could have possibly received these damages or possibly more.

If you have questions about your disability benefits or you feel you are a victim of wrongful dismissal, please contact Yeager & Company.

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