Termination Without Cause Wrongful Dismissal and Your Rights When Your Employment is Ended

Being let go from a job can shatter your confidence and leave you in a vulnerable position. Many employees are grateful for the severance pay they’re offered and gladly accept it thinking it’s all they are entitled to. This is often not the case.

Regardless of the reason for your termination or if you quit because you felt you had no choice, book a free consultation with an employment lawyer to discuss the circumstances around the termination and the amount of severance (if any) you received. 

Both employers and employees are generally unaware of how much severance employees are entitled to or how to properly calculate it. If you were terminated and received a severance payout, you may be entitled to more compensation if it’s been less than two years since the termination.

Keep reading to learn more about your rights as an employee.

What is Termination Without Cause?

Employers in Ontario can ‘fire’ or terminate a non-unionized employee at any time and for any reason or no reason at all (“without cause”) with few exceptions. Those exceptions (i.e. reasons an employer is legally prohibited from terminating an employee) include a “Reprisal” termination when an employer fires an employee for exercising their rights under the Employment Standards Act or the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

A termination is also illegal if it’s based on a protected ground in the Ontario Human Rights Code such as:

  • Citizenship
  • Race
  • Place of origin/ethnic origin
  • Colour
  • Ancestry
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Creed
  • Sex/pregnancy
  • Family status/marital status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity/expression
  • Record of offences

Speak to a lawyer immediately if you were terminated for any of the above reasons. You may be awarded a substantial amount in damages, but there is a limited window for you to take the appropriate action. 

Your Rights if You Are Terminated Without Cause

If you are terminated without cause, you are entitled to a reasonable notice period during which you can continue to work before the employment is officially ended. This is to provide you the opportunity to find a new job. The length of the notice period depends on if your employment contract contains a valid, enforceable termination clause regarding the length of the notice period. A court may find that the termination clause is not enforceable even if you agreed to it. Consult an employment lawyer to have them review the termination clause in your employment contract for their professional opinion.  

Otherwise, an employee to whom the Employment Standards Act applies is entitled to the minimum notice period allowed in the ESA, plus any applicable severance if employed for 5 years or more. They may also be entitled to “reasonable notice” as determined by common law (judicial rulings in previous court cases). Courts generally reach their decisions on what a reasonable notice period is by considering factors that include:

  • Age of the employee
  • Length of the employee’s service
  • Level of the position held
  • Availability of similar employment.

Bank, airline and other federally-regulated employees are bound by the rules and allowances in the Canada Labour Code. 

Alternatively, an employer may choose to terminate the employment immediately and pay you the money you would have earned during the notice period, or “pay in lieu” of notice. They may also offer you a severance package of compensation and ask you to sign an agreement to accept it. You do not have to make a decision to accept their offer on the spot, and, in fact, it’s crucial that you do not accept any severance package until you speak to an employment lawyer first. You are likely being offered considerably less than what you are entitled to. 

What is Wrongful Dismissal?

Wrongful dismissal means that you were terminated without cause but were not provided adequate notice or pay in lieu of notice. Wrongful dismissal can also occur if:

  • An employee quits because of fundamental changes to their employment without their consent. This may be considered a constructive dismissal which entitles the employee to the notice or severance they were not eligible for when they quit.
  • An employer terminates an employee “for cause” or with “just cause,” but a court or tribunal later finds that the employer did not have grounds to do so. Terminations with cause are meant for severe incidents of misconduct such as theft, fraud or insubordination. 

Always consult an employment lawyer before making significant decisions related to your work. There is a lot more to know about your rights around termination and employee rights in general.  

You may be interested in: Why You May Have Been Wrongfully Terminated