It’s a common belief that a company needs a very good reason to fire an employee in Ontario. However, that’s not true. Companies are, perhaps surprisingly, allowed to fire employees without cause, for just about any reason. The important thing to note is that if you’re fired without cause (and in many cases, even if you’re fired with cause), the company is required to pay severance.
To help understand what it means to be terminated without cause, and what that means for you in terms of severance and your next steps, we spoke to Lior Samfiru, employment lawyer and national co-managing partner of Toronto-based Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, Canada’s largest employee-side employment law firm.
What’s the difference between being fired without cause and being fired for cause?
While the end result of losing your job is equal, there are key differences between being fired with or without cause in Ontario.
Termination ‘without cause’ occurs when a company dismisses an employee not because of serious misconduct, but rather due to other factors. An employer can let someone go for business restructuring, a change in business direction, an economic downturn, poor job performance, a poor job fit, or even for subjective reasons, such as disliking the colour of the shoes the employee wears. According to Lior Samfiru, “A company can ultimately fire employees for any reason, as long as they aren’t violating the employee’s human rights. But while a company can fire an employee for any number of reasons, they are legally obligated to pay fair and full severance when they do so.”
On the other hand, an employer can also terminate an employee ‘for cause,’ which occurs when a worker intentionally engages in serious misconduct, such as theft, harassment, or insubordination. In these cases, the employer is typically not obligated to provide a severance package. But in order for a company to fire someone in this manner, they must be able to prove that the employee did something serious enough to earn the “capital punishment” of employment law.
Can a company fire employees without cause and without warning?
In Ontario, companies have the right to hire, retain, or dismiss employees, and can do so without providing advance notice.
However, they are required to provide non-unionized full-time, part-time, and contract employees with working notice, a complete severance package, or a combination of both. Working notice means the employee is informed about the termination in advance and continues to work for a specified period.
Samfiru advises, “If you’ve been notified in advance about your job termination, it’s crucial to have your case reviewed. Many employers offer less working notice than what’s due, meaning you might be looking at additional severance pay once your employment ends.”
If I’m fired without cause, do I get severance? How much would I get?
If you're let go from your job without cause, you're entitled to severance pay. In Ontario, the Employment Standards Act (ESA) mandates a minimum severance between 1 and 26 weeks. Yet, the full severance you might be owed can be significantly more – as much as 24 month’s pay. To understand your rights after being fired without cause, check out the Pocket Employment Lawyer, an online toolkit built by Samfiru Tumarkin LLP.
The amount of severance owed will depend on many different factors, including your total earnings, age, length of employment, benefits, and your ability to find similar work. Samfiru Tumarkin’s Severance Pay Calculator can give you an idea of the potential size of your severance package.
What should I do when I get a severance offer?
Always consult with an employment lawyer at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP when you receive a severance offer. Employers must provide severance, but they often offer less than the full amount you deserve by law. A wrongful dismissal occurs when an employer fails to offer the right amount of compensation. Hold off on immediately accepting the offer, even if your employer insists that you do so.
Samfiru explains, “Employers often give a hard, quick deadline to sign the severance offer, using it as a tactic to pressure you into accepting less. Legally, they can’t force you to sign the offer right away; your rights don’t vanish at the end of the workweek.”
He adds, “You can file a claim for full severance up to two years after being fired, but once you sign their initial offer, you forfeit this right.”
If you have questions about the offer, or you think you should receive more than what’s on the table, don’t turn to the Ministry of Labour for help. They can only enforce the absolute minimum severance. Instead, have an expert from Samfiru Tumarkin LLP review your offer. They’ll help you understand your severance package, and work to get you what you’re rightfully owed.
Contact employment lawyer Lior Samfiru, national co-managing partner at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, to get the advice and compensation you need by calling 1-888-861-4555, emailing Ask@EmploymentLawyer.ca or filling out an online contact form.
His law firm represents non-unionized employees in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. Discover your employment rights by watching Lior on Ask a Lawyer every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on CP24.