In British Columbia, wrongful dismissal is the legal term for termination without cause, or when the terms of an employment contract have been irreparably violated.
Laws at the federal and provincial levels, including BC’s Employment Standards Act (ESA), provide employees with rights that protect them from wrongful dismissal. The ESA sets guidelines for proper dismissal and helps the courts define whether or not a dismissal is legally wrongful. You may have legal options if you think you were fired without cause.
What Is Wrongful Dismissal?
Broadly speaking, wrongful dismissal occurs when 1) employers fail to provide employees with proper notice before terminating them or 2) employers fail to properly compensate employees prior to termination. Employers are not required to provide both. In BC, wrongful termination can depend on a variety of factors, with appropriate compensation and notice depending on the situation. Still, the ESA sets guidelines to help employees and the court system determine if wrongful dismissal or termination occurred. These guidelines also help employers understand what their legal obligations to employees are.
It is important to emphasize to both employees and employers that employer obligations can go well beyond the minimum guidelines set by the ESA. Depending on the type of job, the length of employment, total compensation, and the circumstances underpinning termination, legal responsibilities can change. For instance, wrongful dismissal applies to almost all working people within BC, including full- and part-time employees, domestic and foreign workers, contractors, and T4 employees. However, what constitutes minimum compensation or minimum notice—or with or without cause—for each of these classifications can differ.
Consider Whether You’ve Been Wrongly Dismissed
Legally speaking, wrongful termination can depend on whether or not an employee is terminated with, or without, cause. You cannot be fired for no reason without proper notice or pay. But it is also important to note that even if an employer has legitimate reasons for termination, their actions can still constitute wrongful dismissal. The legal onus is on the employer to establish “cause” for dismissal. If an employer does not follow with cause dismissal procedures that include written justification and documentation indicating the reasons for termination, the organization may be in violation of employment law.
Without Cause vs. With Cause
Firing an employee without cause includes a failure to provide pay or notice, a termination that violates the employee’s human rights, or when substantive changes (not agreed upon by the employee) are made to an employment contract.
Firing an employee with cause is acceptable if the employee violated the terms of their employment contract or engaged in conduct detrimental to the employer. In BC and Canada at large, to fire or terminate someone with cause without reasonable notice of termination or compensation is legal. Valid reasons for employee dismissal include:
- Criminal activity
- Willful and repeated insubordination
- Violation of company policy
If you are fired with cause, an employer does not owe you minimum notice or compensation and you cannot bring a wrongful dismissal case against them. While the above is not a complete list, many with cause terminations fall within these scenarios and must be fully documented by the employer.
Those who have been terminated from their job without cause have rights. Take these steps to hold your employer accountable.
Employees only have a limited amount of time to file a wrongful dismissal grievance against their employer. Employees have a six-month deadline to file and two years to commence legal action to enforce their claim. Remember that you aren’t alone. The wrongful dismissal lawyers at Stephens & Holman are here to help you file your claim and meet important legal deadlines.
Employees may want to be proactive in documenting their employer’s wrongdoing. Keeping a journal or saving correspondence like emails can help build a case. Be mindful of company policies outlining the proper handling of private company information. Illegally obtaining or distributing employer documents could land the employee in their own legal hot water. It is best to contact an experienced employment lawyer to help you determine what information you’ll need to build your wrongful dismissal case.
Start Looking for a New Job
One important caveat to filing a wrongful dismissal claim is that even if you’re wrongly dismissed, you must continue to look for a job. Unless outstanding circumstances like on-the-job injury or disability prevent you from working, you should submit employment applications for jobs in your chosen field and keep a record of all attempts you have made to obtain employment. This step is important for courts attempting to determine the extent of the damage incurred by a wrongful dismissal.
Take the Offending Employer to Court
A wronged plaintiff (the terminated employee) can be due monetary compensation in the form of damages. In such a case, an employer can be determined to have acted unfairly, insensitively, and in bad faith resulting in financial compensation to the employee. Awards may be granted in the form of both aggravated or punitive damages.