Fixed Term Employment and Wrongful Dismissal

Wrongful dismissal occurs frequently as many employers believe they can fire an employee on a fixed term contract without notice. Contracts may outline specific dates of employment, but continuous service over a period of years can be a clear indication of an indefinite term of employment. Previous wrongful dismissal cases direct the courts to closely examine the length of service as well as the underlying relationship and conduct between employer and employee to determine the validity of fixed term employment.


Wrongful Dismissal: When do Fixed Term Contracts become Open-Ended Contracts?


Fixed term contracts are common in many teaching positions, such as that held by a college instructor who was employed by a post-secondary institution for over 9 years. His position was renewed via contract every semester for a total of 40 contracts, and the instructor assumed his employment would continue on in the same manner. His employer was partnered with a distance-education university which provided curriculum for most of the courses taught at the institution. When this partnership ended, the institution was sold and the instructor was terminated without notice. He subsequently filed for wrongful dismissal.


Wrongful Dismissal: Reality Vs. the Written Contract


The employer claimed the employee wasn’t entitled to reasonable notice as he was hired on fixed term contracts where his employment terminated at the end of each semester. The courts disagreed and the action for wrongful dismissal was allowed for several reasons:


    • The employer did not issue a Record of Employment for the end of each semester;, therefore, the instructor’s employment was never officially terminated. The employee was issued only 1 ROE after his last day of work and it indicated that he had worked a total of 9 years. If his employment terminated after each semester, the employer would have issued an ROE for each of the 40 semesters.


    • The 40 appointment contracts were nearly identical in content, indicating no re-negotiation of terms. The court identified these as standard forms that outlined the curricular duties of the employee and his salary for each semester. They did not indicate any official termination of employment.


    • The employer officially recognized the instructor’s 10 years of service and awarded him a certificate of academic excellence. He assumed that due to his positive performance reports and increased course load over the years that his employment was indefinite. The court decided the instructor’s expectations were reasonable and expected.


    • The relationship and conduct between the employer and the instructor were closely examined as was his length of service and responsibilities. Evidence proved that the employer was happy with his work and dependant on his continued service. This indicated that he was continuously employed and not merely a fixed-term employee as the employer claimed. The reality of this situation took precedence over any literal or implied meaning in the written contracts.

Wrongful Dismissal: Additional Damages Awarded

At the time of this ruling, the instructor was 65 years old. Based on his age, specialized field, difficulty in obtaining steady employment and length of service, he was awarded appropriate damages in lieu of notice under employment law. The court also recognized the unfair and sneaky manner in which the wrongful dismissal occurred. The employer was aware for over 6 months that the instructor’s position would be terminated, but chose not to inform him. Additional notice was awarded as a result, for a total of 15 months’ notice.


If you would like to learn more about wrongful dismissal and fixed term employment, please contact Wrongful Dismissal Lawyer, Bob Yeager.


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