Andy has worked for the Big Red Company as a salesman for over twelve years. He takes a lot of pride in his work, and, while he has the occasional slip up, he has received many accolades from his superiors. Over the years, however, Big Red is experiencing financial trouble. The top brass at Big Red have decided the solution is to cut workers. To Andy’s shock, his boss informs him that his services are no longer needed. He feels as though he’s been sucker-punched in the gut and thinks, “But how can they do this to me? I’ve done nothing wrong… I’ve been such a good and hard-working employee! This is wrongful dismissal!”
While many employees think that they can’t be fired if they haven’t done anything wrong, that’s simply not the law in Canada. In many situations an employer can fire an employee at any time, for any reason or no reason. This may not apply if the employee is unionised, in a workplace that is federally regulated, has a valid and enforceable contractual provision stating otherwise, or if the reason for dismissal is related to a human rights protected ground.
The decision to terminate an employee may be a costly one for the employer, however, because it triggers common law and statutory obligations for the employer to provide what’s known as “notice” to the dismissed employee.
In a nutshell, an employer who wants to dismiss an employee is obliged to provide that employee with advance notice of the dismissal. The reason the employer is obligated to provide this notice is to give the employee time to find a replacement job elsewhere. How much advance warning a dismissed employee is entitled to depends on a number of factors: the employee’s age, length of service, and position are the main considerations. The key question to determine the appropriate notice period is, “How long will it take this particular employee to find a similar job locally?”
Employers can provide a fired employee with notice in different ways. Big Red can ask Andy to work during the appropriate notice period (i.e. “working notice”), or provide Andy with payment in lieu of notice. Payment in lieu of notice can also be provided in different ways. Big Red can end Andy’s employment and continue his salary and benefits over the appropriate notice period, or provide him with a lump-sum payment representative of his earnings over the notice period. A combination of salary continuance and a lump sum payment is also an option. Another option is a combination of working notice and payment in lieu of notice. Of course benefits must be continued over the statutory notice period and in most cases the common law notice period.
Of course, there are many other issues and factors to consider from both the employer and employee perspectives, which will impact upon employer obligations and employee entitlements, such as whether there is a valid and enforceable employment contract, whether there is “just cause” for termination of employment without notice, whether there are issues of mitigation, among others. It is always a good idea for both employers and employees to consult with an experienced Employment Law Lawyer for specific advice.
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