Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Another media story criticizing the government for honouring its contractual obligations

Here is yet another story where the press gets upset when the government honours its contractual obligations.

You will never read a news headline akin to "sales force given enormous commission cheques due to its role in record sales" or, for that matter "vehicle purchased at price agreed between buyer and seller." Why then are these stories so prevalent in the limited context of public-sector severance packages?

There are two sides to the equation.

On one side, the government is an entity playing with a large pool of money, but without the same kind of personal impetus to manage that money as individuals exercise over their own finances. This makes it easy for the government to waste money, and especially easy in self-serving circumstances like establishing one's own severance package.

On the other side, persons working in and for the government are either largely or entirely subject to the whim of the electorate and can lose their job without notice. Wrongful dismissal litigation is premised on the idea that almost no person should be fired without reasonable notice as this would result in unbearable financial burden on people - our jobs are our livelihood after all. In the context of government, fixed severance provisions can be a tool to offset the often unpredictable employment landscape, which in turn becomes a tool to incentivize talented individuals to take these jobs.

At TevlinGleadle Employment Law Strategies, we deal with the enforcement of employment contracts on a daily basis. If the government would not enforce a contract, it would be sued and it would lose the lawsuit - adding wasted legal bills to the problem alleged by the media in the above link (and countless others like it). In fact, Blair Curtis of our office recently did exactly that in a case where the government wrongfully refused to pay severance to which it had agreed in a contract.

As a voting taxpayer, I am offended when my tax dollars fund overly-generous contractual severance packages. My point is not that this does not happen (although there are new stories which blast packages which strike me as reasonable too). My point is that this problem should be addressed at the time of hiring the person.

Instead of this, the media seems to report these stories exclusively at or after the time of termination. I posit that a contractual arrangement, even one which is badly bargained, should be honoured by a government organization. The media, and taxpayers, should be vigilant for excessive severance packages, but the time to exert pressure is at the time of bargaining, not the time of termination. The focus of these stories on the wrong time period allows the current political regime to say 'the last guys did it' all while doing exactly the same thing themselves.

Politicians: If you will impugn the payment of severance packages as agreed in employment contracts, I hereby call on you to utter in the same breath 'and my government will not be doing this' or words to similar effect.

Journalists: Please scrutinize the contracts in place and the current Human Resource practices of a government if you want to be the mouthpiece of change.

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