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THE QUESTION

Can a company reduce or eliminate our health benefits? The benefits are important to me since I require monthly medication and the benefits package at this employer is one of the reasons I took this job.

THE ANSWER

Benefits are a form of compensation, just like your salary. Employers can make only minor changes to your compensation without your consent. There is case law that states that anything more than a 15-per-cent change in compensation is a breach of contract that entitles you to leave your position and sue for damages while you look for another job. This is referred to as a constructive dismissal, but the 15-per-cent figure is just a guideline. Even a 5-per-cent change to your compensation may in some cases amount to a constructive dismissal.

You should first insist that your employer maintain the benefits or pay you additional compensation so that you can secure your own benefits. If they refuse, you have to make decision between staying at work without benefits or leaving to find a new job that provides them. If you relied on the benefits as an inducement to take this job, then you have a stronger shot at challenging any decision to remove them.

THE QUESTION

I live in and was employed in Alberta, but I worked for an Ontario company. I was their only sales employee in Alberta. The company does not have any assets in Alberta – everything is in Ontario. I was recently fired. Can I sue in Alberta and does it make sense to do that? Or is it more practical to hire an Ontario lawyer to sue there?

THE ANSWER

Where to sue is a strategic choice. You can sue in Alberta but you would have to enforce any judgment you obtain in Ontario, which adds an additional layer of complexity and cost to your lawsuit. Or you could sue in Ontario but that would require you to travel when you have to appear in person for the case.

In Canada, a person or company who starts a lawsuit makes the decision on where to sue, but a defendant can challenge that choice if there was no real connection between the jurisdiction that was selected by the plaintiff and the case.

Daniel A. Lublin is a partner at Whitten & Lublin, representing both employers and employees in workplace legal disputes.

E-mail: Dan@canadaemploymentlawyer.com

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