Q&A: Wrongful Dismissal from Employment


Q&A is a recurring series on the Vey Willetts LLP blog. The aim is to provide quick answers to questions we commonly encounter in our day-to-day practice of employment law. In this edition, we focus on wrongful dismissal from employment.

Q: What Makes a Dismissal “Wrongful”?

A: Absent special circumstances (such as for unionized employees, employees governed by federal employment laws or where the dismissal is contrary to a statutory protection) most Ontario employees can be fired at any time so long as they have been provided with the proper amount of severance.

Thus, when employment lawyers talk about a ‘wrongful dismissal’, we are referring to situations where a worker has been let go and not provided with appropriate severance. It is the failure to provide proper severance that is the wrongful act, in that such a result represents a breach of the employment contract between employee and employer.

Q: Does my Employer have to Provide a Reason for Termination?

A: No, generally not. That said, one of the most common complaints we hear from employees following a dismissal is that they don’t know the reason why they have lost their job and this can cause feelings of confusion, frustration and betrayal. While in reality the worker may have done nothing wrong, it is only human in such circumstances for doubts to arise and employees often take time for self-reflection upon losing their job.

Unfortunately, provincially regulated employers in Ontario are not required to provide a reason when firing a worker on a without-cause basis. On the positive side, it is generally becoming more of an employer best practice to provide at least brief reasons for dismissal (especially when asked for by the employee).

Q: I was just Fired for “Cause” (or “Just Cause”). What does this Mean?

A: Cause, sometimes also called Just Cause, is a legal concept whereby a worker can lose their right to severance upon dismissal if they have committed some type of wrong or culpable action in the course of their employment. Cause can arise in a myriad of different circumstances. For a few easy examples, think of an employee found to have stolen thousands of dollars from their employer or a worker who physically assaulted a customer on the sales floor.

When an employee is fired with an allegation of cause, they should be explicitly told the basis for this claim.

Practically speaking, cause is a difficult thing for employers to prove. Ontario courts tend to be protective of employees at the time of dismissal and try to prevent loss of severance in all but the clearest cases of serious misconduct.

You can read more here about what constitutes cause for dismissal.

Q: I think I’ve been Wrongfully Dismissed. What should I do?

A: No matter the reason, losing your job is a difficult experience. There are resources, however, to help you navigate this process. As such, if you think you’ve been wrongfully dismissed, we have put together a few materials to help:

  • Consult our Top 10 Tips for handling a Wrongful Dismissal.
  • Learn more about your potential Severance Rights, and how items such any written employment contracts you may have signed can impact your entitlements.
  • Try our online Severance Calculator to get a rough idea as to what severance you may be owed.

*This Q&A article is provided solely for informational purposes. It is not specific legal advice. Should you wish to receive specific legal advice regarding your particular circumstances, please contact us directly.

Vey Willetts LLP is an Ottawa-based employment and labour law boutique that provides timely and cost-effective legal advice to help employees and employers resolve workplace issues in the National Capital Region and across Ontario. To speak with an employment lawyer, contact us at: 613-238-4430 or info@vwlawyers.ca