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What does wrongful termination really mean?

It is not uncommon for employees in British Columbia who lost their jobs to feel that they were unjustly dismissed. However, the term wrongful termination (also known as wrongful dismissal), in law, applies to certain specific situations. The simple explanation is that wrongful termination occurs when when a person is fired without cause and either no severance pay is offered or the amount of severance pay is insufficient.

A person may have grounds to claim wrongful termination even if he or she is not fired. This is known as constructive dismissal, which occurs when an employer makes changes to an employee’s terms of employment that are so drastic the changes undermine the employment agreement between the employee and employer. Both constructive dismissal and wrongful termination may be legally challenged.

Under the BC Employment Standards Act and the common law of employment, an employer can fire an employee for cause and provide no notice or severance package. However, if the termination occurs without cause, the employer must give the worker a certain amount of notice or payment in lieu of a notice period. This payment should include the continuation or replacement of benefits that the employee would have received during a reasonable period of notice. 

This is a complicated field of the law, as the unique circumstances of each termination determine the amount of notice owed by an employer to an employee. Employees must be mindful of their own rights and obligations upon the termination of their employment. Any employee in British Columbia who believes they are the victim of wrongful or constructive dismissal should seek legal counsel experienced in employment law before accepting pay in lieu of notice offered by an employer or signing a release of legal claims.

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