Contents of a disciplinary termination letter: How much detail is necessary?
This interlocutory arbitration ruling dealt with a request for particulars which was filed by the union. In order to render his decision, the arbitrator had to rule as to whether there were sufficient grounds raised by the employer in its termination letter.
Prior to the termination of his employment, the plaintiff held a position as an auxiliary nurse in a Centre intégré universitaire de santé et de services sociaux (“CIUSSS”) [Integrated University Health & Social Services Centre]. He was dismissed because of his poor attitude in his relations both with patients and with his work colleagues.
During the grievance procedure, the employer responded to the initial request for particulars by forwarding a « Lettre de congédiement bonifiée » (supplement to the letter of termination). In this letter, the employer included information regarding the dates and certain incidents that triggered the termination of employment.
The union deemed this production as insufficient. A second request for particulars was forwarded, further to which the employer was asked to provide certain information that the union considered to be essential.
The union sought inter alia additional dates and names of patients and colleagues involved in the events alleged in the termination letter.
Since the employer refused to provide additional details, the union applied to the arbitrator to rule on this issue.
Arbitrator François Hamelin dismissed the second request for particulars presented by the union.
He explained that within the context of a dismissal grievance, the employer is required to comply with the principles of procedural fairness, i.e. sufficient information should be disclosed to the plaintiff in order to allow him to prepare his defence in an intelligent manner.
However, as underlined by the arbitrator, procedural fairness governing dismissal cases should not be confused with the notion of “full answer and defence”, a principle more properly applicable to Criminal law.
In dismissal cases, it is not necessary to provide all details of circumstances that gave rise to employment termination, just as it is not mandatory to disclose the entirety of evidence available to the employer (unless the collective agreement provides otherwise).
It is sufficient to disclose enough information to allow the employee to be informed of the grounds upon which the employer has based its decision to terminate employment, in order to allow an employee the opportunity to adequately and intelligently prepare his defence in contemplation of the upcoming hearing.
In the present case, in its letter of termination, the employer criticized eight (8) acts and/or behaviour the plaintiff adopted in relation to patients. The employer also reported six (6) events concerning the attitude of the plaintiff with his work colleagues.
The arbitrator expressed the view that any faults alleged against the plaintiff occurred under circumstances so particular, unanticipated and out-of-the-ordinary, that the plaintiff could not possibly have been unaware of the events referred to by the employer.
In summary, the arbitrator ruled that the plaintiff had sufficient information available to prepare intelligently for arbitration and it was thus unnecessary to identify the patients and/or work colleagues
Advice to employer
In a disciplinary termination letter, it is not only unnecessary to identify work colleagues, suppliers, patients or clients involved in incidents underlying the events giving rise to measures taken, it is also advisable to refrain from doing so. However, a collective agreement may state the contrary, in which case the employer has no choice but to identify the concerned parties.
We suggest referring, insofar as possible, solely to dates or circumstances of alleged events. This approach limits adverse impacts on the persons involved in the file and will preserve good relations in the workplace.
We note that it is quite possible that in certain non-union cases, where no collective agreement imposes upon the employer any mandatory terms to be included within a letter of termination, it might be preferable to remain somewhat vague in describing grounds for employment termination.
If you have any further questions on this issue, please do not hesitate to contact the offices of Loranger Marcoux.
reference : CIUSSS de la Mauricie et du Centre-du-Québec v. Syndicat des professionnelles en soins de la Mauricie et du Centre-du-Québec (FIQ) (Simon St-Pierre), 2018 QCTA 354