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Time and again our courts remind us, through cases, that employees are vulnerable. The employer holds the purse strings. It holds the fate of an employee in its hands. Our courts continually remind employers that they are obligated to treat employees with respect and dignity. With the immense power that corporations such as large retailers wield comes responsibility and obligations. They must exercise that power appropriately as good corporate citizens.

That’s not what happened in Carla Cheney’s case. Carla stood up for the rights of a helpless animal, and paid the ultimate price of losing her job.

I have a dog, her name is Nova, so this case really resonates with me and my family, but that’s not how it came my way. I’ve been teaching employment law to students at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. Some of those students end up articling at our firm. Some of them stay, and some go onto careers elsewhere. One of my former students, Connie Lamble, now practices law in Kemptville. Carla contacted her. Connie put Carla in touch with me saying “I thought of you.” Thanks Connie! What people do, and the connection we share with others matters.

When good people do nothing – bad stuff happens. We’re saddened by these stories in the media: we see them every year. How do we make it stop? It’s what people DO in these situations that matters. Carla made it clear she believed there was a limit to the orders she could obey without question. Why? Because Carla also has a dog who she loves, named Chico, and she knew full well that following her manager’s instructions could ultimately lead to the death of an animal. She had the courage not to stand by and watch that happen, and was fired on the spot. No paperwork…no written reasons…just leave the building.

Carla has nothing to hide, and has no objection to the real reasons for her termination being released. Even though the employer says it absolutely did not fire Carla for reporting the dog in the car, it announced in the same breath that it will be posting notices to the front of all of its stores across the country advising customers about the dangers of leaving pets in hot cars. Other retailers across the country have already taken the lead by posting these types of signs. This is a positive development, and all thanks to Carla!

Who is right? I am putting my faith in Carla and in the hope that her story also resonates with everyone who believes basic decency matters, who believes that when a life is at risk, anyone who acts to protect that life, even if they didn’t do it quite the way we would, should be supported. If not, at least they shouldn’t be summarily walked off the job. The retailer should apologize to Carla and endorse the right of its employees to do the right thing if they see an animal in danger.

The outpouring of worldwide support for Carla has been incredible. I can tell you it is heartwarming to see that in one poll by a Canadian news agency, more than 90% of people have already voted in support of Carla. Awesome, and thank you to all!

You can help. As citizens and consumers you can support Carla’s bravery. Show that you want corporations to reward the ethical behaviour of their employees and people who take initiative by sending a tweet out in support of Carla using the hash tag #carlacheney.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned…

This content is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion as neither can be given without reference to specific events and situations. © 2021 Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.

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