The Pinestone Resort and Conference Centre is facing an allegation of firing an employee who blew the whistle about a pay delay amidst the pandemic.
Cook Heather Allan Reid spoke with The Highlander about the resort’s ownership, the Aurora Hotel Group, missing a payday March 27 as they laid off her and other workers due to COVID-19. Ownership said the delay was caused by its payroll management firm closing its offices due to the pandemic and did eventually pay April 3.
But with the hotel rehiring people as the province reopens, Reid alleged she was ignored. When she confronted management about it, she alleged she was explicitly told she was being let go because she aired her grievances to the press and social media, which supposedly violated the employee code of conduct.
“I’m tired of living in a town where employers think they can get away with treating employees like this,” Reid said. “It’s ridiculous.”
The Highlander sent an email to Pinestone general manager John Teljeur June 15, asking for an interview about the allegations, and any documentation the company had about rules for employees speaking to the media. The Highlander reached out via email again June 19. The Highlander never received a directly reply to either email. The Highlander connected with Teljeur by phone June 26. Teljeur said he had raised the interview request with ownership and they had decided that the organization would not respond.
Another member of the kitchen staff, Michelle Delaire, also spoke to The Highlander about the pay issue in March. She alleges she was also ignored for days when she reached out about Pinestone rehiring this month. Five days later, she alleges she was told Pinestone wanted her back, but they would need to discuss her quote to The Highlander.
“After not hearing anything, to feeling bullied. Not a professional work environment,” Delaire said, adding she has opted not to return to the Pinestone. “I don’t want to go back to that hostile work environment.”
Andrew Monkhouse, an employment lawyer in Toronto, says the Employment Standards Act prohibits delaying the payment of wages to employees.
“If an employee doesn’t get paid, they can make a complaint to the Ministry of Labour, who could then order compliance.” he said.
But he also notes there is an enforcement gap with the government and few fines for breaking the rules.
When it comes to being fired for speaking to the media, Monkhouse said it’s very likely the employee would be entitled to damages for wrongful dismissal, in the range of three-to-five weeks per years of service. An exception would be if there
was another, genuine cause for termination. Monkhouse says employees are generally permitted to speak to the media, and attempts by employers to stop them are likely without legal merit.
Reid said she still expected to be rehired after speaking out. She said she believes if she was not vocal, owners would not have paid the next week.
“Whether or not I put it out, it was wrong for them not to pay money that I worked for. It is not against the law for me to put it out there that a company refused to pay us,” she said. “If I didn’t do that, (Pinestone) would have kept putting it off.”
Reid said she has retained a lawyer and is pursuing legal action. She said the Pinestone gets a lot of community support, but its workers need that support too.
“They don’t support us,” she said. “But they can support a guy who can do that to his workers.”