Getting Laid Off

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This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Trevor Thomas, Ascent Employment Law in March 2020.

Your employer says they have to lay you off or asks you to work fewer hours “until things pick up.” Learn your rights if you're laid off from work.

What you should know

An employer can lay off workers

Generally speaking, an employer can lay you off whenever they want as long as they give you notice of termination.

There are two ways they can do this. They can warn you in advance. This is called the notice period. Or they can let you go right away. But then they have to pay you the money you would have earned during the notice period. This money is called severance pay.

There are rules around how much notice (or pay) an employer needs to give — and when they don't need to give any (such as if they had just cause to fire you). See our guidance on how much notice an employer needs to give and if you are fired.

In limited circumstances, an employer can lay off workers temporarily

A temporary layoff is when an employer tells a worker they must take an unpaid leave from work. The law in BC doesn’t give employers a general right to temporarily lay off workers.

Temporary layoffs are only legal if one of the following applies:

You have a written employment contract that allows for a layoff.

  • You work in an industry where layoffs are standard practice.
  • You consent to the layoff.

Your employer must prove they had the right to lay you off for one of these reasons.

If you’re let go temporarily and none of the above apply, you have the same rights as someone who’s let go without cause. That means you’re entitled to notice (or pay). See our information on how much notice an employer needs to give.

The law limits the length of any temporary layoff

If a temporary layoff is permitted in your situation, and if you’re covered by employment standards law, there are limits on how long the layoff can last. Your employer can temporarily lay you off for up to 13 weeks in a consecutive 20-week period.

Need help figuring out if employment standards law applies to you? See our information on who’s covered.

If the layoff lasts more than 13 weeks in a consecutive 20-week period, it’s no longer “temporary.” It would be treated as if you were fired without cause on the first day of the layoff.

If your employer reduces your hours

If you’re covered by employment standards law and your employer reduces your weekly hours so you’re earning less than half of your regular wage, this counts as a week’s layoff. That is, it counts as one week towards the 13-week “temporary layoff” period.

Work out the problem

Step 1. Tell your employer if you don't consent to the layof

If you don’t consent to the layoff, let your employer know right away. Do it in writing. Keep a copy.

Step 2. Make an employment standards complaint

You can challenge the layoff. If you’re covered by employment standards law, you can make a complaint to the government office that administers that law.

We explain the steps involved. See our information on making an employment standards complaint.

Go further

For more steps to consider, see our information on if you've been fired.

Who can help

Helpful agencies

Consider reaching out to these agencies for help if you are laid off.

Employment Standards Branch
Deals with complaints against employers relating to layoffs.
Call 1-800-663-3316
Visit website
Employment and Social Development Canada
Deals with complaints against employers in federally-regulated industries.
Call 1-800-641-4049
Visit website

Legal advice

There are options for free legal advice.

Lawyer Referral Service
Helps you connect with a lawyer for a complimentary 15-minute consult to see if you want to hire them.
Call 1-800-663-1919
Visit website
Access Pro Bono's Free Legal Advice
Volunteer lawyers provide 30 minutes of free legal advice to people with low or modest income.
Call 1-877-762-6664
Visit website
People’s Law School
See more options for free or low-cost legal help.
Visit website
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