By Howard Levitt and Maria Belykh
The timing of a holiday termination may attract additional liability
We strongly advise against layoffs during the holiday season. (Ironically, although we have no Canadians statistics, the U.S. bureau of labour statistics advises that December is the month with the second-most terminations. While January is first, that could simply be from laying off seasonal employees.) Not only are layoffs at this time of year insensitive, even callous, but firing someone during the holiday season creates a host of practical concerns.
Not the least of those is that breaking the news during the “most wonderful time of the year” increases the likelihood that an employee will seek the advice of counsel and therefore eventually end up with a higher severance payment.
With more difficulty securing interviews when they are needed most and depleted finances precluding spending money when it is most desired, employees feel more than the usual humiliation and self-doubt. Having to explain one’s predicament to Aunt Becky during Christmas dinner only exacerbates the upset.
For those reasons alone, in our experience, workers terminated during the holiday season are more likely to seek counsel. January is historically one of the busiest months in our practice for this reason.
Courts do not view holiday terminations favourably. Some have gone out of their way to award employees more as a result of these year-end dismissals.
In addition to wrongful dismissal damages, she was awarded $20,000 for the “cold and brusque” way in which the employer ended the relationship.
We are not suggesting that there are no circumstances under which an employee should be fired during the holiday season.
We see far too many situations where an employer had hoped to bring unity and solidarity to their team by hosting a Christmas party, which ended in an employee drinking far too much and crossing a line that could not be uncrossed.
Where employees breach company policies or engage in sexual harassment at a holiday party, usually after a few sips or more of alcohol, employers may have grounds to terminate for cause and should do so. That holds true for any misconduct for which the vacation period provides no respite.