TERMINATED FOR CAUSE – WHERE DO I GO?
Being terminated can be one of the most traumatic experiences in one’s life. In the normal course, and when cause is not alleged, the legal issue to be resolved is whether the payment offered by the employer is appropriate. This is routinely resolved through negotiation with or without the assistance of a lawyer. But what if the employer alleges cause and offers nothing? What does one do?
Whether “appropriate cause” exists is a legal issue and should be discussed with an employment lawyer. There are some cases where cause is obvious and there is no wrongful dismissal. There are some cases where there is doubt about which way a Court would rule. Finally, there are cases where it is obvious that no cause exists and the employer makes the allegation simply to make life more difficult for the employee to receive appropriate damages for wrongful dismissal. In the latter situation, a Court can award additional damages for bad faith.
If the employer does not have appropriate cause to terminate, the employee is entitled to minimum payments (or base payments) of up to eight weeks’ termination pay and up to 26 weeks’ severance pay. The termination/severance provisions of Employment Standards Act (the “Act”) are set out below. One can also refer to the Ministry of Labour website at www.labour.gov.on.ca/
(h) At least eight weeks’ notice (or pay in lieu thereof) if the employee’s period of employment is eight years or more.
An employer that severs an employment relationship shall pay severance pay to the employee if the employee was employed by the employer for five years or more and,
(a) the severance occurred because of permanent discontinuance of all or part of the employer’s business at an establishment and the employee is one of 50 or more employees who have their employment relationship severed within a six-month period as a result; or
Severance pay shall be calculated by multiplying the employee’s regular wages for a regular work week by the number of years (or part years) of employment the employee has completed to a maximum of 26 weeks.
SHOULD I FILE AN EMPLOYMENT STANDARDS CLAIM?
If terminated for cause and without any payment whatsoever, it is a natural instinct to contact the Ministry of Labour. The Ministry of Labour will be able to provide information as to the statutory severance and termination payments owing if appropriate cause cannot be proven. However, there are several reasons why filing a claim with the Ministry of Labour could prove to be a disaster.
WHAT YOU SEE IS NOT WHAT YOU GET
Assume that during the initial communication with the Ministry of Labour one is advised that they are entitled to 20 weeks severance/termination pay commensurate with a 12-year employee in a company with a payroll in excess of $2.5 million. Assuming an annual salary of $52,000.00, this payment represents $20,000.00.
However, if an employee files a claim with Employment Standards for severance or termination pay, there is also a provision of the Act which would then preclude the employee from bringing a civil action for wrongful dismissal. Given that wrongful dismissal damages are almost always significantly greater than Employment Standards minimums (base payments), one can see the significant prejudice in filing an Employment Standards claim. Not only would the employee be limited to $20,000.00, but the employee would also be giving up a right to common law damages which can be tens of thousands of dollars more than base damages.
If one pursues a claim for wrongful dismissal with Employment Standards, that person must understand that they are limiting their claim to base payments and giving up any common law claim for wrongful dismissal damages. For these reasons, few people in fact file Employment Standards claim for severance and termination. When an employee does file such a claim, they may in fact be helping the employer by limiting their liability from what would otherwise have been a significantly greater sum.
With that in mind, one should understand that filing an Employment Standards claim should only be made in very limited circumstances and after consulting with an employment lawyer. It is important in all cases to seek legal advice before any action is taken so one can get advice as to the value of their wrongful dismissal claim.