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What rights do dismissed employees have under the BC Employment Standards Act?

The BC Employment Standards Act provides basic protections for employees who lose their jobs, regardless of whether an employee quits or is fired or laid off. However, individual employment contracts may offer protections greater than those provided under the Act. For example, your employment contract may require a notice of dismissal and severance pay in the event that your employment is terminated, but those things are not necessarily required under the Act.

The Act also does not apply to certain employers, including those regulated by the federal government. The Canada Labour Code governs banks, airlines, postal contractors and other federally regulated employers.

A collective agreement between an employer and a union can also supersede the BC Employment Standards Act. Collective agreements typically address matters such as work hours, overtime, holidays, vacation and dismissal. The Act only applies in employment matters not addressed in the collective agreement.

So what rights do dismissed employees have under the Act?

If an employer fires an employee for "just cause" -- for example, stealing, intentional disobedience or ignoring workplace policy -- then the employer is not required to give the employee any prior notice of dismissal or make a severance payment. However, if an employer fires an employee without just cause, then the employer is required to give the employee notice of dismissal or pay the employee wages equal to what the employee would have earned during the period of notice.

The Employment Standards Act also establishes rules for the minimum wage, meal breaks, hiring children, payroll records, leave from work and mass layoffs. The BC government provides a helpful guide to the Act and how it can be used.

For more on resolving wrongful dismissal disputes, please see the employment litigation overview of Overholt Law.

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