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Samfiru Tumarkin

There may be nothing more challenging for non-unionized workers than understanding employment rights. Unless you’re a lawyer, employment law isn’t taught in school, which means you’re left to figure out what you’re entitled to on your own, and usually after a dispute arises at work. According to Lior Samfiru, National Co-Managing Partner at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, a national employment law firm with offices in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, this lack of knowledge has led to five key myths that can restrict your rights and hinder how much severance you end up taking home after a layoff. 

Myth #1: You have to work five years to get severance

A lot of people think you must work at least five years before you’re entitled to severance. “That’s completely wrong,” says Samfiru, who appears weekly on CP24’s Ask a Lawyer "Every employee gets severance, whether you’ve worked one month or 25 years.” This includes part-time workers and even independent contractors, who are often misclassified as such but are truly employees in the eyes of the law.

There is no milestone in years of service that an employee needs to reach to qualify for compensation. This applies to all types of employers: from small businesses to large companies, including both provincially and federally regulated organizations.

Myth #2: You only get one week of severance pay for every year you worked

One of the biggest employment myths is that laid-off employees are only entitled to one or two weeks of pay for every year they’ve worked at a company. “It’s not that simple,” notes Samfiru, adding that many people can get a lot more than that. While the Employment Standards Act in Ontario does say the least amount an employer must pay is one week of severance per year of service, that’s only the minimum – non-unionized workers can get as much as 24 months’ pay as compensation for losing their job. The amount you receive must be based on your age, position and the length of employment, says Samfiru.

“A termination becomes a wrongful dismissal when your employer ignores those factors and fails to offer you a full severance package,” explains Samfiru. “I created the Severance Pay Calculator to provide the public with a quick understanding of what they may be owed when they’re let go.”

Myth #3: If you were fired for doing something wrong, you don’t get severance

Despite what many people think, getting laid off for not properly doing your job does not disqualify you from severance, says Samfiru. Only in the most serious situations, where it’s impossible for a company to continue employment, is severance negated. This is referred to as a termination “for cause.” Most issues don’t get to that point. “If you’re late three times a week, that’s not a good thing, but that doesn’t mean you can be let go without pay,” Samfiru notes. His law firm regularly helps employees who have been fired “without cause” ­– reasons that don’t amount to serious misconduct or insubordination. This includes poor performance, repeated mistakes, or failure to meet the company’s sales goals.

Myth #4: Short-service employees get little severance

Too many people think if they’ve only worked for a few months they’re entitled to the minimum amount of severance as outlined in the Employment Standards Act. Because of that, they take what their employer gives them instead of talking to an employment lawyer to see if they may be entitled to more.

In fact, those who have worked less time are often treated “disproportionately better” than longer serving employees, says Samfiru. In many cases, someone who has worked for six months can get four to six months of severance. “That’s a significant amount,” he explains. “So, if you lost your job, you are owed severance and probably a lot more than you realize. That’s why it’s important for anyone who has been laid off, no matter how long they’ve worked, to call me for legal advice before they accept any payments.”

Myth #5: If I push for severance, I’m going to burn bridges

Most people don’t want to upset their bosses – even if they’ve been let go – because you never know when you’ll cross paths in the future. That thinking has caused many employees to accept whatever severance package they’re offered. While that’s an understandable approach, it’s the wrong one to take, says Samfiru. “You should never feel bad for pursuing what the law says you should have,” he says. Employment lawyers, he explains, don’t have the ability to get someone any more than they’re legally owed, so you’re only pursuing a payment that’s within your rights. At the same time, Samfiru is “very mindful of not burning any bridges. We resolve matters quickly, amicably and professionally with employers. In most cases, that’s not a difficult thing to do.”

Understanding these myths and knowing more about what you’re entitled to will go a long way in helping you get the severance you deserve.

Have you lost your job? Do you need to find out how much severance you should get?

Contact employment lawyer Lior Samfiru, 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 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.