Employees – Sometimes Honesty is the Best Policy!
Most employment contracts have an implied duty of honesty, which requires an employee to act in a trustworthy, forthright manner with his/her employer. This implied duty is fundamental to the employment relationship: an employee who is deliberately deceptive casts doubts on his/her ability to cultivate a mutually beneficial, productive and trust-based work relationship.
The recent BC Human Rights Tribunal ruling of Opp v. Mackoff confirmed that honesty is indeed the best policy. The complainant, Ms. Opp, was hired as a legal administrative assistant on November 17, 2014: Ms. Opp had discovered that she was pregnant prior to starting work with the law firm. In the first few days of employment, Ms. Opp disclosed her pregnancy to a few people, but stated that she was worried about telling senior management about the pregnancy for fear that it would impact her employment.
A few weeks later (on November 27, 2014), Ms. Opp told a few more employees that she was pregnant, but this time, claimed to have only found out about the pregnancy the weekend prior. Finally, in mid December 2014, Ms. Opp disclosed her pregnancy to the Senior Paralegal and Senior Partner. In her discussions with the Senior Partner, she claimed that she had fallen ill December 1 to 3, 2014, which required her to go to the hospital emergency. Ms. Opp said that after the emergency room physician had examined her, he confirmed that she was pregnant, which was the first time she had learned of the pregnancy.
The story did not sit right with the Senior Partner and through his enquiries, he found out that Ms. Opp was aware of her pregnancy on her first day of employment. He also discovered that Ms. Opp had never attended the hospital emergency in early December as she had reported. The Senior Partner decided to terminate Ms. Opp’s employment because (in his own words):
“…I could not repose any confidence in Ms. Opp to act honestly in a situation arising on a file where perhaps she omitted to do something and rather than simply tell us of her error would invent a story or swear a false affidavit to conceal her mistake… I had decided that I needed to terminate Ms. Opp due to her consciously dishonest conduct. After considering the matter, I felt that by concocting a story, Ms. Opp had undermined the employer/employee relationship.”
Ms. Opp started a complaint with BC’s Human Rights Tribunal alleging that she was terminated because of her pregnancy (on the Human Rights Code grounds of physical disability, sex, and family status). The Tribunal ruled against her and found that Ms. Opp’s pregnancy was not a factor in her termination: rather the firm terminated Ms. Opp (and rightfully so) because of her dishonesty.
This case illustrates that as an employee, you must maintain an open and honest relationship with your employer. Failure to do so may be seen as an irreparable breach of the employment relationship, which may give your employer cause to immediately end your employment.
Are you interested in other employment law updates that might affect you and your workplace? Check out my article in the March 2016 issue of Advocacy Matters, where I summarize the top 10 employment law cases in about 140 words!