A recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice addresses directors’ duties towards the corporation and its employees. Specifically, the court addressed whether a director or officer’s fiduciary duties extend to protecting an employee from the consequences of that employee’s own fraudulent acts.
It’s one of those pension administration nightmares – someone of pensionable age shows up at your door claiming he was an employee 20 years ago and asks for his pension. There is some evidence of employment, but no record of a pension entitlement. As a fiduciary you cannot pay out benefits unless someone is clearly entitled, so you ask the person for some proof of the pension entitlement. At this point the person may give up; but your sense of relief is overshadowed by concerns that your record keeping did not allow you to be as certain as you might have been in disposing of the claim. On the other hand, if he doesn’t give up, it will likely be an even more costly, time-consuming and frustrating exercise.
Regular readers may recall the article we wrote on the topic of officer liability. There we commented on circumstances in which officers of corporations under the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act (CNCA) (whether continued to it or incorporated there) will be exposed to personal liability. Not long after that piece was written, an Executive Director of a corporation considering continuing to the CNCA who is an employee and not an officer in accordance with the corporation’s by-laws, asked us if she would owe a fiduciary duty to the corporation under the CNCA. On reflection, we concluded that the new officer provisions in the CNCA create a statutory framework wherein employees could be held liable for a breach of the same duties that are applicable to directors of those corporations. We left, for the moment, the question as to whether these duties were “fiduciary” or not.