In Alexander v Huron Commodities ( 2019 CarswellNat 377) Arbitrator Howard Snow, in a Canada Labour Code Unjust Dismissal case, ruled that the decision of a EI Officer ( which is first level of decsion under the Act) that there was no misconduct acts as an estoppal on that issue in the CLC case. This means that the Employer cannot even raise the argument of just cause in the CLC proceeding.
Mr Brown found that the three elements of estoppal were proven:
- The same question has been decided, that is whether the employee had committed any misconduct.
- Whether the decision was judicial and whether it was final.
- The parties were the same in both proceedings.
I have grave concerns about this award:
- The decision of the EI officer was made solely on two phone calls, one with the employee and one with the employer. Neither side seemed to know what the other side said to the officer. Of course there was no chance to cross examine the other party or even to refute the other side. How could this ever be characterized as a ” judicial decision ?
- What if it went the other way? What if the employee, acting on his own with no legal knowledge were to fail to tell the EI officer an important fact. Should he or she be denied access to a completely different legal process because of this lay person error? I have actually appeared as counsel on various EI matters and the level of “evidence ” that even the Board of Referees ( the appeal level from the EI Officer ) is well below the level of any court or administrative tribunal. In my experience, the Board of Referees will consider as “evidence” the notes taken by the EI officer of a conversation with a HR representative of the Employer who is relating what some manager told him or her. This is at best double hearsay. This again shows that this is not a judicial decision .
- Prior to this case, rulings of EI Board of Referees have been found to create valid estoppal arguments in civil cases of wrongful dismissal. This led to the common practice of most employers and many employees to not appeal cases from the officer level so as to avoid being stuck with an adverse ruling . This is especially important for employers because they actually have no financial stake in the outcome of a EI case. Now however, both parties take a huge risk if they even talk to the EI Officer because an adverse ruling could have a huge effect on future legal proceedings.
Therefore employers should be advised not to even talk to EI officers as there is no upside at all to doing this and it can only worsen their position later on. Employers have a statutory duty to fill out an ROE, but I don’t believe that they have such legal duty to even talk to an EI Officer.
Employees are in a much worse bind. If the employer alleges ” Dismissal” on the ROE and provides some evidence to the officer, but the employee refuses to participate in the process to avoid the estoppal argument, the employee will likely lose their entitlement to EI, creating even more economic pressure on the dismissed employee to settle with the employer on a unfavourable basis.
One can only hope that no court or other adjudicators will follow this non-binding decision.