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Is Referring a Client to a Competitor Grounds for Dismissal?

A client always wants the best price possible. Right? 

Generally, for a client, the courtesy of an employee informing them of potential savings at a competitor’s store is an act that is appreciated. However, for the employer, the same gesture can seem disloyal to the business as it encourages the client to obtain the product elsewhere. This being said, is the gesture grounds for dismissing the employee?

On August 4th, 2015, the Superior Court of Quebec rendered a judgement in which it was asked to pronounce itself on the subject.

In the case in question, the employee, Nancy Beaulieu, was a cashier with 18 years experience and an impeccable disciplinary record with the same employer.  She was fired for having mentioned to a client that the product that they intended to buy was less expensive at Walmart, a competitor. When the employer was told about the event, they first suspended and then fired Ms. Beaulieu by invoking breach of her duty of loyalty and breach of trust.

The dismissal was contested in arbitration and, at that stage, the arbitrator Me François Hamelin concluded that the disloyalty of a cashier was not only serious misconduct, but also abhorrent[1]. Furthermore, he noted that the misconduct committed by the employee was serious enough to definitively rupture the trust meant to unify them[2]. Therefore, he gave the employer the right, and confirmed the soundness (validity), of the employee’s termination.

Unsatisfied with this decision, the employee’s union requested that the Superior Court revise the arbitrary sentence. The case was heard by the Honorable Michel A. Pinsonnault. In his judgement, he expresses himself regarding Me Hamelin’s decision as follows:

“[17] with great respect to the differing opinion, there was no need for the Superior Court to intervene in this case in order to judicially revise the Sentence, which in the eyes of the Court, suffers no weakness or deficiency that could justify the Court’s intervention.

[18] After reading the Sentence, the Court has decided that it is justified, transparent and intelligible. Not only is the Arbitrators’ decision a possible outcome, but it appears, in the eyes of the court, to be the right decision in this instance.[3]

Furthermore, he adds:

“it is unthinkable that a cashier who is serving a client, at the moment that they pay for their purchases, says that certain products they are buying can be found for a lower price at a competitor’s”[4].

The Court’s position therefore seems to be clear in regards to the act committed: inciting a client to buy products from a competitor constitutes misconduct serious enough to justify the dismissal of an employee who, albeit, had a clean disciplinary record after working 18 years for the employer.

Take note, as an employee, use extreme caution when it comes to referring a client to a competing business!

[1] Paragraph 63 of the Arbitration Award rendered March 13th, 2014 et cited on page 13 of the Superior Court judgement 2015 QCCS 3579

[2] Paragraph 68 of the Arbitration Award rendered March 13th, 2014 et cited on page 14 of the Superior Court judgement 2015 QCCS 3579

[3] 2015 QCCS 3579

[4] 2015 QCCS 3579 paragraph 61.

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