When is a Disability a Frustration of Contract in British Columbia?

Without a doubt, a long-term disability is frustrating for employers and employees alike. A person who unexpectedly cannot work finds it difficult to make ends meet. An employer who has relied on that person for years– find themselves facing rising disability insurance premiums– while an important job goes undone.

In British Columbia, the law prevents the wrongful termination of an employment contract. However, the law does allow for an exception when a person’s disability permanently prevents them from returning to work. This is known as the defence of frustration.

If your employment contract was terminated due to your long-term illness or injury, it is important to understand your legal rights. While some circumstances allow for the use of the frustration defence, it does not provide employers with carte-blanche to terminate workers as they see fit. To discuss your rights in this situation, contact the Preszler personal injury law firm.

The rules regarding the frustration of contract are not firm

Courts will consider each case individually because there is never an easy answer on whether the defence might apply. A consultation with a personal injury lawyer could provide the best evaluation on whether it is warranted in your case.

It is a common misconception that frustration of contract is tied to the amount of time a person is unable to fulfill their position at work. Instead, the determination has more to do with the chances of ever returning. That does not mean an injury or illness must be permanent to warrant dismissal. Courts have found that an injury that lasts a sufficient duration– could go beyond the idea of a “temporary injury or illness.” If that occurs, the defence of frustration of contract could protect the employer in a wrongful termination suit.

The courts do not have hard and fast rules when an injury or illness becomes more than temporary. Each case is different, requiring the court to weigh several factors. They include:

  • How vital replacing the employee is to the health of the company
  • Terms of sick pay in the employment contract
  • The prognosis for a full or partial recovery
  • Employee’s time of service, and
  • The length of the employment contract.

If the judge determines that the employer dismissed the employee at a time when their disability would permanently or substantially impact their ability to do their job, the defence of frustration is available.

The defence would not be acceptable, however, if the court found that minor adjustments to the job would allow the worker to return in a reasonable amount of time.

Right of termination vs. expiration of benefits

One reason for the lack of clarity regarding time limits in a frustration defence could be the confusion with disability benefits. While there is not a hard and fast rule regarding when termination is allowed– there is a limit on long-term disability benefits in most cases.

It is important to understand that while these concepts are similar, one does not have a bearing on the other. There is a two-year limit in many instances on the availability of disability benefits. However, whether benefits are terminated doesn’t impact the employment agreement between the parties. A person can remain an employee under the terms of the contract– even if they have exhausted disability.

Work with an experienced injury lawyer

If you have been terminated from your job due to your illness or injury, your life might feel like it is out of control. That said, you could still have legal options for ensuring your financial needs are met. The court could disagree with your employer’s belief that it was necessary to fire you. To discuss your options with a long term disability law firm, contact us today.

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