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Employment & Labour

Employment law suits problem-solver Wise

With a penchant for problem-solving, Toronto employment lawyer Matthew Wise says he knows he found his calling by helping people deal with workplace issues.

“I’d describe myself as a pragmatic problem-solver and there aren’t many bigger problems than finding out you’ve been fired,” says Wise, a partner with Macdonald Sager Manis LLP (MSM).

He says he gravitated towards the law several years before attending Osgoode Hall Law School.

“I loved public speaking and classes like English where you got to explore language, and the law seemed to sort of fit,” Wise tells

After his graduation and call to the bar in 1999, Wise set his sights on a career in litigation.

“I like that aspect of being challenged, thinking on your feet, and negotiating resolutions,” he says. “I thought that would be fun and fulfilling.

“And it turns out it is,” Wise adds.

At MSM, his litigation practice focuses primarily on employment law, and includes some general business disputes and debt enforcement matters.

“Most of my time is spent helping clients navigate through their termination packages, and finding ways to improve on what they’ve been offered through negotiations with employers,” Wise says. “If there are more issues, we can go to litigation.

"Human rights is another area that comes up frequently in the workplace because of how broadly the legislation defines prohibited grounds of discrimination such as disability.”

Wise says employment law has been transformed in the last year as the reverberations from Hollywood’s ongoing harassment and sex assault scandals and the subsequent #MeToo movement continue to be felt north of the border.

He says stories about alleged abuses of power involving various movie stars and moguls, have accelerated changes already in progress in Canadian workplaces. 

“There are many things that are no longer considered appropriate that you may have been able to get away with 10 years ago, partly because people weren’t willing to speak up about them,” Wise says. “But employers continue to do some really silly things without realizing how dangerous it can be to them.”

Wise also acts for employers on issues ranging from drafting of employment contracts, wrongful dismissals, restrictive covenants and human rights matters. Occasionally, he is called in to advise on matters of inappropriate behaviour on the part of senior management.

“I’ve had people in HR telling me, ‘The VP has been doing this and that, is it OK?’” Wise says. “Often the answer is no, and I tell them they need to take immediate action.    

“Workplaces are slowly catching up, but they’re not always quite with the times, and I find employers are frequently doing and saying things that open the door for employees to assert their rights in a way that I think is quite justified,” he adds.   

Wise says representing parties on either side of a dispute keeps his work interesting and forces him to stay on his toes.

“For employees, you’re almost an amateur psychologist for them. They need much more explanation, tend not to be in good spirits having just been fired, and there’s a big power and financial imbalance against them,” he says.

“For employers, it’s a different mentality. Their goal is to pay as little as possible, but I encourage them to be reasonable and fair because they can be sure that all their other employees are watching how things will play out. They have to be careful of the optics of the situation.”

Either way, he’s unafraid to offer clients a dose of reality.

“If a client asks me to drag things out, I’ll tell them that it’s not in their best interest. The only person who wins in that situation is the lawyer, but I’m not interested in trying to get a bigger fee than is necessary to solve an issue,” Wise says.

“The good thing about acting for both sides is that you learn all the tricks that people will pull. Whether you’re dealt a good hand or a bad hand on either side, you know which cards to play.”

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