Wrongful Dismissal and Employment Contracts – How much Notice are You Entitled to?

If you’re under the impression that you can’t be fired simply because you perform your job consistently and satisfactorily, you couldn’t be more wrong.  Being a good employee doesn’t protect you from the chopping block as employers have the right to terminate your employment; at any time and for any reason.  Being dismissed for grossly bad behaviour, or “just cause” is one thing, but what happens if you’re fired without it?

An employer doesn’t require a good reason to terminate an employee as the courts aren’t interested in the reasons why the termination occurred.  While employers are free to fire at will, there is a catch: they must honour the termination terms in the employee’s employment contract. So, if you’re terminated without just cause, you may be entitled to notice or pay in lieu of notice. Employers who don’t provide these could be in breach of contract and you could be eligible for damages for wrongful dismissal.

Employment Contracts - Minimum Notice Vs. Reasonable Notice

Employment contracts include hiring letters or written contracts as well as verbal contracts.  All are fully enforceable.  While an employee with a written agreement can easily read the terms on the document, employees with verbal contracts still have a basic understanding of their terms; including rate of pay, benefits, etc.  However, the law also imposes certain terms which may be less apparent; or not mentioned in a contract at all.

  • Minimum Notice - The Employment Standard Act sets out numerous minimal requirements for every employment agreement and minimum notice is one of those requirements. So whether you have a handshake deal or an official document, your employer must provide you with minimum notice as calculated by the Employment Standards Act. Employees who are fired without just cause are entitled to this bare minimum, regardless of what any contract states.
  • Reasonable Notice - The common law also has provisions and states that employees are entitled to reasonable notice upon termination. Reasonable notice is almost always a greater amount than the minimum notice of the Employment Standards Act, as its formula is calculated differently.  Another important difference is this: the formula for reasonable notice is subject to the terms of an employment contract, whereas the formula for minimum notice isn’t.

If you’ve been dismissed without cause, your employer must provide you with reasonable notice.  If they don’t, they’re in breach of contract and liable for damages for wrongful dismissal. But, what happens if you have an employment contract that states different dismissal terms?

Wrongful Dismissal - Be Careful with What You Sign

Employers don’t want to pay any more than they have to, which is why many of them will provide an official contract upon hiring.  Contracts can be lengthy and confusing, so make sure you know what you’re getting into before you sign. They may include terms that limit dismissal notice to less than reasonable notice. If you agree to those terms, you may be relinquishing your right to reasonable notice under the common law and any claim of damages for wrongful dismissal.

If you are confused about the terms of your employment contract, or believe you’re a victim of wrongful dismissal, please contact Wrongful Dismissal Lawyer, Bob Yeager.


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