Employment Law

Cook Roberts LLP’s employment lawyers are able to assist you with a full range of employment law services, whether you are an employer or an employee. Our services include drafting and/or reviewing employment contracts and severance packages and representing employers and employees in workplace investigations, negotiations, mediations, and litigation proceedings including court claims and complaints under the Employment Standards Act, the Canada Labour Code, the British Columbia Human Rights Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Employment Contracts

Employment contracts can and should clearly define an employer’s and an employee’s respective rights and duties in a number of areas of the employment relationship such as the duties the employee will perform under the contract, the compensation and possible bonus structure for the employee, and the notice or compensation that the employee will be provided with if the employer decides to terminate the relationship if terminated without cause. These are only examples of the various terms that can be included and addressed in an employment contract.

Depending on the circumstances, non-solicitation and non-competition clauses might also might be appropriate in the contract. As an employer, your employees can be your most valuable asset but also represent a potential financial and legal liability to your business. A well-drafted employment contract can be the foundation of your future employment relationship with an employee whether you are hiring a new employee, promoting an employee, or simply wishing to clarify the role and responsibilities of a current employee. Cook Roberts LLP’s employment lawyers are able to draft employment contracts to suit your business’s needs and can guide you through the process of implementing the contract so that it is effective and enforceable.

As an employee, a contract signed at the start of your employment could impact your legal rights for the duration of your employment relationship and can significantly affect your legal rights at the end of your employment. Cook Roberts LLP’s employment lawyers are able to review employment contracts before you sign them and can advise you on your legal rights and the impact that your employment contract may have on those rights. If necessary, Cook Roberts LLP’s employment lawyers can also represent you in negotiations with your future employer to ensure that the contract that you do sign is as fair as possible.

Dismissal Planning

An employer’s dismissal of an employee can have a major impact on the employer’s finances and reputation whether the employer dismisses the employee for “cause” or without cause. The law requires “good faith” in the employer’s handling of the dismissal process, but what “good faith” means depends on the circumstances of the particular employer and employee. Cook Roberts LLP’s employment lawyers can help you plan a dismissal process and the presentation of a severance package that properly protects your rights and interests.

Review of Severance Packages

Cook Roberts LLP’s employment lawyers are frequently consulted by employees about severance packages that they have been offered at the time of their dismissal. Where the packages are fair, we offer peace of mind that you have been treated properly in accordance with your legal rights; where the packages are unfair, we have had considerable success in obtaining more favourable packages for employees through negotiations with employers.

Wrongful Dismissal/Constructive Dismissal

Cook Roberts LLP’s employment lawyers are also experienced in pursuing and defending wrongful dismissal and constructive dismissal claims on behalf of both employers and employees. These claims are usually resolved in settlement negotiations or mediation; however, if need be, Cook Roberts LLP’s employment lawyers have extensive experience in conducting court proceedings on behalf of both employer and employee.

Human Rights Complaints

Cook Roberts LLP’s employment lawyers can assist you with filing a complaint against your former or even present employer and/or negotiating a fair settlement on your behalf if you have been discriminated against with respect to your employment because of your race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, political belief, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or age. If your employer is unwilling to settle your complaint, Cook Roberts LLP’s employment lawyers can represent you in proceedings under the British Columbia Human Rights Code or the Canadian Human Rights Act as appropriate. Cook Roberts LLP’s employment lawyers also have extensive experience defending employers against human rights complaints after the filing of such complaints and in advising employers on how to try to avoid or minimize the risk of such complaints being filed against them.

Loss of Group Insurance Coverage

Perhaps the most dramatic and unexpected financial exposure that an employer can face in the employment law context is where the employer has a group insurance plan in effect for its employees and a dismissed employee becomes disabled during the “notice period.” Conversely, a dismissed employee can face tremendous financial loss when he or she becomes disabled during the notice period and is no longer covered by that group insurance plan that was in effect during the term of his or her employment.

In these circumstances the employer can end up being liable for the benefits that the group insurance company would have paid to the employee (or the employee’s estate) for life insurance, short term and long term disability, and other benefits if the employee had remained employed during the notice period. These amounts can be very significant depending on such factors as the terms of the group insurance policy, the nature of the employee’s disability, his or her age, etc.

Cook Roberts LLP’s employment lawyers are experience in advising both employers and employees in how to avoid or minimize the risk of such unfortunate outcomes by ensuring that group insurance issues are properly addressed during the dismissal process. We also have experience in handling the court proceedings that can result if such issues are not addressed during the dismissal process.

Workplace Investigations

Employers are increasingly conducting investigations of workplace -conduct issues whether as part of anti-bullying and harassment policies, allegations of discriminatory conduct by an employee, or other reasons. It is important that an employer ensure that such an investigation is conducted fairly and effectively in order to protect the interests of the employer as well as the interests of the members of its workforce potentially affected by the outcome of the investigation.

Legal issues often arise with respect to the handling of such investigations and the implementation of any disciplinary measures resulting from the outcome of such investigations. Cook Roberts LLP’s employment lawyers can advise employers and employees on workplace investigation issues.

“Independent” Contractors

Questions often arise in employment law about whether an individual is an “independent contractor” for the purposes of the notice or compensation in lieu of notice that the “employer” might owe to the person or whether the person is instead an employee or perhaps fits into the intermediate category of a “dependant contractor.” The answer to this question can have significant financial consequences to the employer and the individual.

The fact that an individual’s contract might say he or she is an “independent contractor” is only the starting point in determining his or her actual status for employment law purposes.

Cook Roberts LLP’s employment lawyers can advise on this issue in the handling of dismissal situations. Our team of experienced tax lawyers can, where required, advise on the related tax law issues arising from the independent contractor vs. employee situation.

The Tax Issues in Dismissal Situations

Cook Roberts LLP’s employment lawyers are experienced in advising on the tax-related issues that arise in many dismissal situations. Where necessary, our employment lawyers can draw upon the assistance of our team of experienced tax lawyers in advising on such issues.

Fee Arrangements for Dismissed Employees

We appreciate that dismissed employees often have difficulty paying for legal services on a “conventional” hourly-rate basis. If you are a dismissed employee, we would be pleased to discuss with you an appropriate fee arrangement for the particular services that you require.

Contact Us First (not after!)

From the employer’s perspective, “an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure” in dealing with legal issues in the workplace. First seeking legal advice after an employee has been dismissed can result in an employer facing severe financial liability. Also, contacting only the Employment Standards Branch about the right “severance” to pay an employee without also seeking a lawyer’s advice can result in the employer facing severe financial liability – the severance that might be owed to the employee under the Employment Standards Act is often only the starting point in terms of quantifying the employer’s potential financial liability when dismissing an employee.

From the employee’s perspective, an employee can face tremendous prejudice if the employee accepts an offer presented by an employer at the time of dismissal, signs a release in the employer’s favour and only seeks legal advice after signing the release. There may still be an argument that the employer coerced the employee into signing the release, but it is far better for the employee to seek legal advice first before accepting the employer’s offer and signing the release. It is likely that an employer presenting an employee with a package and demanding that the employee immediately sign a release is not presenting the employee with a fair package.