Employers, at least in non-unionized settings, have a great deal of control over the workplace. Yes, there are all sorts of analyses of the limits of an employer's ability to make unilateral changes, reduce pay, demote, suspend, change duties, etc., and the extent to which such actions might breach (and terminate) the employment contract.
But there's a much more fundamental question: What does the employee get if he proves that the employer has, through words or conduct, terminated the employment contract?
And quite often (especially for employees who don't make much money in the first place), the answer is "not much".
And the reason is this: The employer is entitled to terminate the employment relationship at just about any time and for just about any reason (with a few exceptions, as I've discussed before), on provision of reasonable notice or pay in lieu thereof. What constitutes reasonable notice depends on factors including age, length of service, and character of employment.
So a CEO make $250,000 a year, who has been in the job a few years, will have entitlements on termination that will often be in the six-digit range.
But a front-line worker making minimum wage and barely able to feed his family? Even if he's worked for the employer for 25 years, he's unlikely to get more than twelve months notice, which at full time would be in the ballpark of $20,000. Less deductions. With EI payments he's received backed out. And after paying any legal fees necessary to get it...which could well be enough to leave him in the hole overall.
And that's a long service employee. A short service employee is in an even more difficult position, and it will often be very impractical for them to pursue their remedies.
So for the front-line employee whose employer is doing unreasonable things, unless there are human rights implications or violations of the Employment Standards Act or other statutes...if they really need the job, they may have to play nice with the employer, even when the employer is acting outside of his strict contractual rights.
This blog is not intended to and does not provide legal advice to any person in respect of any particular legal issue, and does not create a solicitor-client relationship with any readers, but rather provides general legal information. If you have a legal issue or possible legal issue, contact a lawyer.