By Douglas P. Welbanks

A good friend of mine enjoyed a long distinguished career in one of Canada’s top 5 banks. He was well-liked by staff and colleagues. He possessed this rare ability to get along with virtually anyone. Not an easy task in any industry because there is usually at least one aggravating person in any crowd or office that challenges us to the maximum.

His professionalism has been unquestioned throughout the full spectrum of his 30 year career. For me, he has been a rudder in the great sea of work-related turmoil, always steering away from the rocks and maintaining a conservative but progressive outlook on virtually all topics. I have asked for his opinion on countless occasions because I could trust his judgement. Many times I would be a little too soft or too harsh, and he would help modify my detour from the centre. He would bring me back to a respectful middle – where conservative and liberal views co-mingle to produce a balanced perspective.

A few months ago, completely unbeknownst to him, without warning, he was fired after 20 years of outstanding service at one of the top 5 banks. It was unbelievable. It looked like a tale of fiction from an amateur novelist that could never withstand the scrutiny of an informed public. Yes he was unduly ushered out of the premises after being stripped of his keys and access (and sense of worth).

Of course he instantly recruited one of the top wrongful dismissal lawyers and very early into the negotiations the bank’s lawyers admitted that my friend had been wrongfully dismissed. For one thing, there were no warnings.

Now, you may have heard a couple of years ago about an employee who sued one of the banks over forced unpaid overtime – that was a violation of the labour code to force employees to work basically for free – over the normal 8 hour work day. Since then, many banks have adopted a balanced life approach for their employees and inform staff that they should not work overtime and seek to strike a healthy balance between work and home. Of course, cynics might see this as a formal policy statement for the public and potentially courts to see, but still demand and expect the sales or else.

So, with respect to my friend, even though the bank’s lawyers saw the infraction and kind of expected the bank to come up with an early settlement, the bank simply delayed everything. And, this is the problem. Big corporate entities can afford to wait, go to court, and/or appeal. My friend, meanwhile, has no income. His credit card balances are rising like flood waters threatening disaster – he knows the danger.

Oh yes, there’s another twist. If he should find another job before any settlement is reached, then whatever he would earn would be deducted from the settlement.

So, the bank knows this and seems to be trying to starve him into a poor settlement. In a nutshell, this simply isn’t fair or right. The bank fired a long term employee without doing its due diligence – no proper notice, no progressive discipline and gave no chance for any misconduct to be corrected by an employee. Then, they slow down the process to a snail’s pace and from what I can gather, have ignored their own lawyer’s advice. They don’t want to settle.

If this isn’t bad enough, the story gets worse. It’s been over 8 months without an income for him and his disabled wife. He threw his name into the job finder’s hat, otherwise known as head hunters. With all of his experience and respectable references, nothing. No action on any potential new job front. So, he has now contacted peers who know him and his unblemished reputation and skills. And guess what? They want to know why he left the bank and insinuate that he’s a bit old at 55 years of age. They all want to recruit young people.

So, in my dear friend’s case, indeed, there is no mercy for the old. He is stranded in a law suit he will eventually win, in a financial no-win situation where he can’t really work until a settlement is reached, is paying excessive interest on unpaid credit card balances while the bank delays, delays and delays, faces significant legal fees, and no-one wants to hire him because, at 55, he’s too old.

Maybe it’s time to rethink how to regulate banks. Give employees with legitimate grievances a better more affordable place to go besides the courts. If you have to fight an injustice, then the fight should be fair, otherwise the outcome is likely to be unjust.

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