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What should Canadians know about being fired during COVID

As many Canadians experience layoffs during the ongoing pandemic, here is an actionable guide on what to do if you get fired.

Employee termination has become an even more common issue during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the economy changes, businesses fail, and companies restructure, employees are increasingly finding themselves terminated or put on temporary leave. For this article, we’re going to discuss some of the main considerations for an employee being terminated.

Can I Get Fired?

The unfortunate reality in Ontario is that without a fixed-term contract, an employer can fire an employee at any time. However, the employee must receive adequate notice or fair pay-in-lieu-of-notice upon termination. This often gets confusing when people discuss the employer-employee relationship. The rule is not that the employer has to keep you employed, only that they have to treat you fairly if they decide to let you go. 

COVID-19 has exponentially increased the reasons for which an employee might be let go. Businesses are seeing less revenue, fewer customers, and reduced operations. Many employers are also moving to automated or remote operations, which also lowers staffing requirements. All of this combines for an extremely difficult situation for employees, who are left hoping that they will be kept on through all this change.

What Happens When I’m Fired?

If you are fired, the employer should provide you with written notice of the termination, a settlement agreement, and a release. The notice should explain the reasons for the termination and outline any compensation you are being offered. The settlement agreement should explain the compensation being offered and the timelines upon which the compensation can be expected. The release is a document the employer may ask you to sign, which confirms that you have accepted the proposed compensation and will not pursue a legal claim.

If the employer doesn’t provide these documents, you can request them. If they continue to refuse to provide them, you will likely have to consider the verbal statement (or text message, email, etc.) as the “written notice.” Once the documents are provided, you are under no obligation to sign immediately. Do not start a scene with the employer. Take the documents and request an adequate opportunity to review them in full before signing.

Will I Get Termination/Severance Pay?

Your entitlement to termination/severance pay will depend on a few things. Firstly, check your employment agreement to determine if the contract sets specific termination rules. If it does not, then the Employment Standards Act sets out minimum requirements for severance and termination pay. Under the ESA, “severance” and “termination pay” are separate categories and apply in different situations.

If your employment agreement does not limit “common law” claims, then you may be able to get more compensation. The “common law” is the law established through past court cases. Judges have said that in some circumstances, a persona may be entitled to more than the minimum amount of compensation under the ESA. Many lawyers will use a month per year as a rule-of-thumb, but there are many factors which will determine the exact compensation that will be appropriate for your situation.

If you have been let go recently, don’t panic. You should have an entitlement to some compensation from your employer which will help you sustain yourself while you look for a new job. Keep all the documents the employer provides and seek out legal advice to review your options. Do not sign any documents before reviewing them thoroughly, ideally with a lawyer. Once you are comfortable responding to the employer, you can do so directly or through a legal representative. 

Most importantly, keep active and seek out new work opportunities or employment. The legal process for a termination claim can take a long time. Do your best to move on quickly, dealing with the termination claim only when necessary. Take a proactive approach and it will make a big difference in reducing stress, keeping you focused, and helping you land on your feet!

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