Employee Termination – What Happens if You’re Fired for Just Cause?

In the previous article regarding employee termination, it was explained that an employer has the right to fire someone at any time and for any reason.  The catch is: if an employee termination occurs without just cause, the employer usually must provide notice or pay in lieu of notice. However, the opposite is true if an employee termination occurs with just cause.  Just cause gives the employer the right to fire someone immediately and without notice or severance pay. 


If you’re fired for just cause, you will likely be paid for the last day you worked and that’s it. One thing to remember is that just cause is your employer’s conclusion and nothing more.  You can accept your employer’s conclusion and move on, or you can reject it and seek legal advice from an employment lawyer.  Just cause is a legal determination that can only be made by a judge, not an employer.


Employee Termination - Just Cause is All or Nothing


Does an employer have just cause or not?  Does an employee deserve notice or not?  Legally speaking, there isn’t any middle ground for either of these questions.  The law clearly states that if an employer has just cause, then the employee doesn’t deserve notice.  It’s that simple.  On the other hand, if the employer doesn’t have just cause, then the employee is usually entitled to notice.  While it may seem that just cause is the ultimate weapon in an employer’s arsenal, employment law does offer some protection for employees.  It’s true that an employer may fire at will, but firing someone for just cause is a severe punishment and as such, the law requires a significant amount of proof.


Employee Termination - Burden of Proof


The good news is that the burden of proof doesn’t lie with the employee, but rather the employer. Even if an employer proves the employee’s behavior is at fault, the question remains: Is the employee’s behavior bad enough that he/she deserves immediate termination without notice?  Proving just cause can be difficult as the employer must provide enough evidence to convince the judge that the employee deserves such harsh treatment. It’s an all or nothing decision, and in these types of cases, the courts rarely allow the employer to claim just cause for an employee’s termination.



Employee Termination - What Defines Just Cause?



Just cause is defined by unacceptable conduct of an employee.  Such misconduct can irrevocably damage the employment relationship and make it impossible for it to continue. Some serious examples include:


  • theft


  •  critical dishonesty or fraud


  • conflict of interest such as secretly competing with the employer


  •  physical assault or harassment


  • gross and palatable incompetence


The above examples of misconduct are so damaging that a single incident usually results in an employee’s termination for cause.  These clear-cut situations rarely end up in court.  However, litigation is more common in situations which involve employee conduct over a period of time. They can include:


  • unsatisfactory performance


  • dereliction of duty


  • insubordination or disobedience


These examples usually require numerous incidents of sufficient magnitude before the law will allow dismissal for cause.  They are also much more difficult for an employer to prove, as the passage of time also brings procedural correctness, fair warning and other factors into play. If the employer can’t prove their case, (which happens more often than not) they will owe the employee notice or severance according to the employment contract.


Remember, just cause is a legal determination that can only be made by a judge, not an employer. If your employer’s reason for just cause seems unjust in any way, contact Employment Lawyer, Bob Yeager and get immediate answers about employee termination, your rights and more.



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