If You Are Fired: Wrongful Dismissal

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This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Ashley Syer, Syer Law in April 2020.

You’ve been let go from a job. You may be unsure where you stand, and what to do next. Learn the rules employers must follow in firing someone, and steps you can take to protect your rights.

What you should know

Whether employment standards law applies to you

Several factors affect your rights if you’re fired. A key one is whether you’re covered by employment standards law.

A BC law, the Employment Standards Act, sets minimum standards for employers in how they treat workers. This law applies to “employees” — which covers most but not all workers in the province.

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

What your employment contract says

A second factor that comes into play is your employment contract. It may include terms that deal with how your employment can be ended. (Note there’s always an employment contract between a worker and an employer, even if nothing is in writing.)

Your contract rights may be greater than the protections in employment standards law. But, if employment standards law applies to you, your contract rights cannot be less than the minimum standards the law sets. If they are, you’re still entitled to the minimum protections of the law.

If you’re fired and you’ve done nothing wrong

Generally speaking, your employer can fire you whenever they want as long as they give you notice of termination.

There are two ways they can give you notice:

  1. They can warn you in advance. This is called the notice period.
  2. 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.

The notice your employer gives you must be reasonable (with one exception: if your employment contract spells out how much notice you get).

For workers covered by employment standards law, there is a minimum notice your employer must give you depending on how long you’ve been in the job.

What is “reasonable” and what are the minimums? See our guidance on how much notice an employer needs to give.

If you’re fired for just cause

If you do something seriously wrong, an employer can fire you for just cause. In these situations, the employer doesn’t have to give you notice of termination.

Just cause behaviour is where you do something seriously incompatible with the employment relationship continuing — to the point the employer cannot be expected to provide you with another chance.

For example, your employer might have just cause to fire you if you:

  • are dishonest about something important
  • steal from your employer
  • repeatedly breach a clear workplace policy or rule

In all but the most serious cases of misconduct, you’re entitled to receive warnings and opportunities to improve before being dismissed for just cause.

(Tip: if your employer fires you for just cause, they have to tell you what the reason is.)

We have more on what amounts to just cause. See our in-depth info on this topic.

If you’re fired for poor performance

If an employer is unhappy with your job performance, they can’t just fire you out of the blue — they must give you notice of termination.

Unless they can show all of the following:

  • They established a reasonable standard of performance, and communicated it to you.
  • They warned you that you were falling short, and gave you reasonable time and help to meet the standard.
  • And you still failed to meet the standard.

If they can show all of that, an employer can let you go for poor performance and not give you notice.

Things you can’t be fired for

You can’t be fired for doing something you have the legal right to do. For example, your employer can’t fire you for raising a health or safety issue or refusing unsafe work.

If you’re covered by employment standards law, you can’t be fired for doing something permitted under that law. For example, your employer can’t fire you for taking an annual vacation you’re entitled to. Or making a complaint to the government office that administers that law.

Your employer is breaking BC’s human rights law if they fire you because of:

  • your race, colour, ancestry, ethnic origin, citizenship, or where you were born
  • your religious beliefs
  • a physical or mental disability you have (including addiction)
  • the fact you have children, plan to have children, or are pregnant
  • your marital status
  • your gender
  • your sexual identity, gender identity, or gender expression

You’re entitled to all outstanding wages and a ROE

If you’re fired, your employer must pay all your outstanding wages and vacation pay — no matter why you are fired.

Your employer must also give you a record of employment. Your ROE is a form the employer prepares saying how long you worked for them and how much you earned. You’ll need this form to apply for employment insurance benefits.

Work out the problem

Step 1. Ask your employer why you've been fired

Legally speaking, your employer doesn’t need to give you a reason for firing you — unless you’re fired for just cause. But you should ask anyway.

If they do give you a reason, this can help you decide what to do next.

Step 2. Apply for benefits

Losing a job can mess up your finances in a hurry. It’s a good idea to apply for employment insurance benefits.

EI benefits are temporary payments made to people who lose their job through no fault of their own. The benefits are paid by the federal government.

There are time limits involved, so you should apply right away. See our guidance on applying for EI benefits.

Step 3. Start looking for work

You have a duty to seek new and comparable work, even during the notice period.

Step 4. Gather relevant documents

Collecting any documents related to your firing can help clarify your thinking. They also can serve as evidence, should you end up in a hearing or trial.

Pull out your employment contract (if you have a written one).

Collect any letters, memos, or emails that help show why you were fired. Locate any documents that show how you asserted your rights as a worker.

Gather any paperwork your employer gave you when you were let go, including your record of employment.

If you’re dealing with serious work-related stress, consider getting medical treatment. Medical records are a very strong form of evidence.

Step 5. Consider your legal options

If you think your employer breached your legal rights by firing you, you may have as many as three options, depending on your situation.

If you’re covered by BC employment standards law, you can make an employment standards complaint. We explain the steps involved. See how to make an employment standards complaint.

If your employer fired you for a reason that violates your human rights, you can bring a human rights claim. You may be able to recover lost wages, or compensation for injury to your self-respect or dignity.

Or you can start a legal action against your employer. You can sue for wrongful dismissal. The amount you claim affects where you bring your lawsuit. If it’s for $5,000 or less, you can file online with the Civil Resolution Tribunal. This online tribunal can be a faster and cheaper option than court.

In deciding between these options, it’s valuable to get legal advice. Once starting on one of these paths, you may be legally prevented from using the others. Plus, there are time limits in play for each process.

Don’t have access to a lawyer? There are options for free or low-cost legal advice.

Go deeper

Want more on these steps and your legal rights on getting fired? See our in-depth coverage of this topic.

Who can help

Helpful agencies

Consider reaching out to these agencies for help if you lose your job.

Employment Standards Branch
The BC government office that deals with complaints against employers.
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
BC Human Rights Tribunal
Receives and resolves discrimination complaints under BC law.
Call 1-888-440-8844
Visit website
Can help if you want to report an unsafe workplace
Call 1-888-621-7233
Visit website
Service Canada
Can help with questions or concerns about employment insurance benefits.
Call 1-800-206-7218
Visit website

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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