Employer ordered to pay $100,000 punitive damages.

On January 31, 2013, the British Columbia Court awarded an employee $100,000.00 in punitive damages as a result of the defendant employer’s conduct, which was found to be malicious and vindictive, in breach of its obligations of good faith and fair dealing in the manner in which the employee was terminated. The employer’s egregious conduct continued “unbroken” throughout the legal proceeding.

The Court awarded punitive damages against the employer to punish, denounce, and deter future actions, which included:

1. The employer refused to pay the employee’s outstanding wages unless a release was signed in favour of the employer upon termination;
2. The employer made unfounded and baseless allegations of civil fraud and incompetence;
3. The employer interfered with the employee’s ability to maintain alternative employment following termination in circumstances where the employee was financially vulnerable and struggling to earn a living;
4. The employer refused to return the employee’s personal belongings following termination. Remarkably, the employer attempted to wrestle away the employee’s personal laptop from him;
5. The employer threatened to bankrupt the employee and advised the employee that the employer would ensure that he did not have sufficient funds to prosecute the wrongful dismissal lawsuit.

While the facts of this case are particularly astonishing, it is an important reminder for employers to handle a termination with care and sensitivity, in compliance with all statutory and common law requirements, and avoid playing “hardball” by raising unfounded allegations of cause or impropriety that can result in the Court levying an award of special costs or punitive damages as it did here.

Kelly v. Norsemont Mining Inc., 2013 BCSC 147