My boss had me drive his truck to pick him up from the airport and I damaged the side panel against a corner wall while backing out of a tight spot. He wants me to pay for the damages ( $4,700). I have already paid him $1,000 without knowing that it could be illegal for him to ask. I'm afraid that if I don't pay him, he'll fire me or come after my family for the money. Shouldn't his insurance cover it? – Chris, Toronto
Accidents happen on the job – whether you break a stack of plates, spill a latte on a new laptop or drive your boss's truck into a parkade wall.
But you don't normally have to pay out of pocket for your screw-ups – even when they involve pricey car repairs, experts said.
"I don't think there's any way the boss can force him to pay for damage," said Anatoly Dvorkin, a Toronto employment lawyer. "They can ask for it, but I don't think there's a legal mechanism in employment law where a company can say, 'You must repay us.'"
Lawyers we spoke to say they'd need to know specifics to talk about your actual case, but generally, an employee shouldn't have to pay for damaging property, whether it belongs to the company or the boss.
"If my staff breaks something, I bear that risk – and frankly, most employers carry umbrella policies," said Toronto employment lawyer Bruce Baron. "There's no, 'Thou shalt pay.'"
An employment contract – if you've actually signed one – could say that you're personally responsible for damages, but Dvorkin said he's "never seen a contract that said that."
Can't dock pay
Ontario's Ministry of Labour says that province's Employment Standards Act prevents employers from docking pay for mistakes.
"Generally, under the Employment Standards Act (ESA), an employer cannot withhold, cause to return or make a deduction from wages because of an employee's 'faulty work' [like] damage to company tools/vehicles," said Janet Deline, Ontario Ministry of Labour spokeswoman, in an e-mail statement.
Could your boss fire you? Sure. But he'd have to prove cause, or else you could sue for wrongful dismissal – although, if you haven't been there that long, you may not get much cash.
"Anybody can get fired for anything – but if there's no cause, they have to give notice or money," Dvorkin said. "It's not like the guy stole money – he did something accidentally. If he had a history of screw-ups, that could be different."
If boss has collision, insurance will cover it
"If the policy carries collision coverage, the damage to the vehicle could be claimed under the policy, less the deductible," said Pete Karageorgos director of consumer and industry relations for the Insurance Bureau of Canada. "So, it is unclear if the money being demanded by the boss is to cover the deductible or if it is have the repairs made, without reporting the damage to the insurer."
Generally, if someone gives you permission to drive their car and you get into an accident, the insurance company will cover it, but their premiums could take a hit, Karageorgos said.
"If you lend your car, you are also lending out your insurance and insurance record – if there's a collision, it's just like you were driving the car yourself," Karageorgos said. "You don't have the ability to sue them for it because you've given them permission to use the car."
If it was a fleet vehicle and you were listed as a driver, then there's a chance that you may be on the hook for the deductible, Karageorgos said.
"There could be a $5,000 deductible," he said. "There are policies where an employee can purchase a lower deductible if they're driving a fleet vehicle."
In Ontario, if you're more than 25 per cent at fault in a collision, your insurance company can increase your rates, even if there's no damage.
In this case, unless there was an earthquake and the wall crashed into the truck, you're 100 per cent responsible – and your boss's rates could increase, Karageorgos said.
Can pay out of pocket
Your boss is not required to make an insurance claim – there's always the option to not make an insurance claim and to pay out of pocket instead, Karageorgos said.
Under a new rule, paying for it yourself could mean no rate hike, but only if the damage was under $2,000 per car, there were no injuries and it happened after June 1, 2016.
"This provision is limited to one minor accident every three years – it's a get-out-of-jail-free card once every three years." Karageorgos said. "Before that, the law was silent on the amount – some insurance companies would say, 'It shows you're not as cautious a driver as you claim,' even though they didn't have to pay out anything."
It's generally a good idea to tell your insurance company about the accident if it involves another car or private property, even if you're not making a claim. That's because the other driver, or the property owner, could sue you down the road for injuries or damage.
No hotline to call
What recourse do you have? Even though you don't have to pay your boss, if you still want to work there, you may decide to work something out with him – he can't force you to pay him, but there's no rule against paying him if you decide to, Dvorkin said.
Or, you could find another job and quit.
"The boss can't dock his wages, can't force him to fork over $4,700 and can't go after his family, but what he can do is make life at work miserable," Dvorkin said. "There's no sort of watchdog or government entity you can complain to and say, 'My employer isn't treating me nicely.'"
You'd only have recourse if there was a breach of the Employment Standards Act – say, if your boss didn't pay you – or if there was discrimination or harassment.
And, there's no rule saying your boss can't ask you pick him up at the airport.
"Your boss can ask you to do anything – but you don't have to do it, necessarily," Dvorkin said. "But if you don't, it could damage your relationship – it might be best just to find another job."
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