January 1, 2020 0 Comments Experience Working in Alberta's Oilfield

Unpaid Wages, Harassment, Defamation: the new Dark Side of Employment & Contracting

In July 2019: I filed a Civil Claim for Wrongful Dismissal, and a second for Amount Owing for Services. This as a self-represented litigant. 

I sued for unpaid work, punitive damages, and a notice period (severance) entitlement under common law.

I have been looking for an adequate settlement for myself, originally a contractor. However, I have performed employee-like duties and behaved like one; the defendant here is denying me rights and entitlements as an employee. Currently this employer has told certain other workers that “[he] is no longer with us”, but there has been no formal written termination from them delivered to me. I received a letter and phone call from another staff member questioning my intents. This perhaps to catch me saying the phrase: “I quit”. Which I did not; I did not quit.

CRA is also investigating this employer after an attempted audit that failed to obtain the information requested from them.

There has been evidence of alleged fraud and tax evasion, including numerous Facebook posts.

OHS and RCMP have also been there frequently due to workers being physically attacked, belittled, yelled at, made unwanted contact to, etc.

I had been harassed in front of other employees and subcontractors during the last couple months leading up to the dismissal; yelling and screaming, belittling in front of other employees, unwanted contact via phone calls, text messages, pressuring myself to perform work not comfortable with and unfit for, etc.

This employer has allegedly committed fraud: documents modified to show CRA auditors that I have been paid, but in reality I have not for the most previous invoice as of this time of writing. Also, it’s produced many spreadsheets of expenses incurred by their operations – but accused me of incurring instead, and countersued me as result  

This employer also accuses me of theft that I did not do. 

This employer has admitted to intentionally withholding my pay. Withholding of pay has been an extremely common practice, in belief their legal budget and aggression will discourage any pursuit of debt.

I have been defamed and harassed over social media and at company meetings in front of other staff. I’ve been accused of being evil- a horrible person, a thief, and a fraudster. 

The defendant has bluntly indicated that its intention is to just not pay, rather than challenge the merits of the claims themselves; to make it prohibitively expensive to pursue the claims. In its words, its goal is to “to make [me] lose my home and vehicle.” At this point, its motive seems more emotional than financial; legal costs are to already equated or exceeded the amount of owed wages and other arrears for completed work.

The lawyer is not great either: it just takes whatever content the defendant gives them and shove it into threat letters or a dispute note of counterclaim, without verifying the information or some of what they even write. For the Wrongful Dismissal claim, the court sent our case straight for a Pre-Trial Conference (Mediation with a Judge) the following day the defendant filed a dispute note with counterclaim on day #20 – with approximately just one hour remaining in the day to respond. 

I’ve sold the Amount Owing for Services debt to a new collections agency. Both this one and the former lack any aggression remotely necessary to collect. Though I had my doubts if they are aggressive enough to deal with this kind of defendant.

My lawyer has informed me that winning won’t be an issue, but it’ll be a long painful process getting the money itself. At first he said that it’s not worthwhile to spend the legal fees when he expected the settlement to be just marginally over that, and I’d net more just going to Employment Standards or self-representing in court. He only gained interest when witnesses, alleged harassment, assault, defamation, and false accusations of theft and fraud became involved and would make large punitive damages possible.

There are several other creditors also going after this employer; some with claims going through Queen’s Bench – but it seems like attrition is the common theme. If it takes too long, they may get to the money first.

I spoke to 2 different lawyers regarding my issue and while I could go for more damages, they recommend the Civil Court, being much more streamlined compared to the Queen’s Bench. They anticipated that the defendant likely will not be in business long enough to warrant going through Queen’s Bench, and that the employer would just settle the matter outside court. But this employer is being unexpectedly difficult, and has communicated via third party that their strategy is to stretch it out as long as possible, and have no intentions of paying.