Harrigan Rentals and Equipment owner Shelly Harrigan, who inherited the business and had little experience in the business, relied on Kenneth Campbell, its financial controller. His compensation for this was a company gas card that Harrigan told him was for personal use.
Several years later, Harrigan stumbled upon evidence Campbell had been using the gas card for his wife's vehicle and after a confrontation asked him to leave the workplace pending investigation. She fired Campbell when she discovered further evidence of expense and benefits fraud. After he was fired she found evidence he had taken two salary advances and contributed to an inflated inventory figure.
Campbell sued for wrongful dismissal and went to trial.
The justice decided that the original grounds did not hold up for dismissal because use of the gas cards was ambiguous, and Campbell had reasonable grounds to believe his spouse was entitled to his benefits.
However, the judge found that the new grounds of unapproved salary advances and inflated inventory were so serious they amounted to just cause, despite being discovered after termination.
"The lessons for employers speak to the importance of a strategic approach to firing for cause and an aggressive stance in defending wrongful dismissal actions," employment lawyer Howard Levit said.
A recent international court decision gives employers some confidence that they can prove just cause even if grounds are discovered months, or even years, after the termination.