Termination of Employment: How to Respond

Termination of employment can be emotionally and financially devastating. It is important that you respond in a way that protects your rights. Here are some tips on how to respond:

Phil White is an employment lawyer practicing in Toronto. He can be reached at pwhite@grosman.com or 416.364.9599

Phil White is a Toronto employment lawyer. He can be reached by email at pwhite@prwlaw.ca or by phone at 416.613.1381 or 1.888.350.9204 (toll-free)

  1. If you are given a termination letter when you are terminated from your employment that offers you a severance package do not immediately accept the employer’s offer. You need to have the settlement offer reviewed by an expert in employment law.
  2. If you did sign the termination letter at the termination meeting accepting the employer’s severance package, book an appointment with an employment lawyer immediately.
  3.  It may still be possible for you to reject your employer’s offer and ask for a better severance package. Do not delay, time is of the essence.
  4. It is common for people to want to know why they were terminated from their employment. It never hurts to ask but in Ontario, your employer has no legal obligation to tell you. The exception is employees who were employed by federally regulated employers such as banks, airlines, telecommunication companies, and railways. If you were employed by a federally regulated employer for more than 12 months, s. 241(1) of the Canada Labour Code allows you to make a written request for the reasons for your dismissal. Your employer must provide you with the reasons for your dismissal within 15 days of your request.
  5. If you have been terminated from your employment for cause or believe your dismissal may have been discriminatory (ie in breach of the Human Rights Code) collect all documentation that you that is related to your employer’s decision to terminate your employment. An employer has the burden of proving that it had cause to terminate the employee. Establishing just cause for dismissal is a very high hurdle for the employer to overcome. As a result, most employees who have been terminated from their employment for cause are able to negotiate a severance package if they retain an experienced employment lawyer and challenge their employer’s decision;
  6. If you have been terminated from your employment without cause and offered a severance package collect your employment contract(s) and any corporate policies that may impact your entitlement to a severance package (such as stock option and bonus policies) so that these documents can be reviewed by an employment lawyer;
  7. Do not assume that your employer has provided you with your legal entitlements upon dismissal. Ignore claims by your employer that their settlement offer meets or exceeds their legal obligations to you. In particular, if your employer is relying on a termination clause in your employment contract do not assume that the termination clause is legally binding. Experienced employment lawyers are very good at spotting termination clauses that will not be enforced by a court. Approximately 30% of termination clauses in Ontario have not been properly drafted and, therefore, will not be enforced by a court allowing the dismissed employee to claim a much larger severance package.
  8. If the manner in which you were terminated was humiliating or degrading and you have become depressed or otherwise suffering from mental distress book an appointment with your doctor.  You may be entitled to be compensation for the mental distress you have suffered as a result of the bad faith manner of your dismissal.
  9. Medical evidence of your mental distress may be useful in support a claim for moral damages against your former employer;
  10. Book a consultation with an employment lawyer to have the severance package reviewed. Even if the severance package appears to be consistent with the terms of your employment contract a skilled employment lawyer may determine that you are entitled to a larger severance package. When choosing a lawyer, make sure the lawyer’s practice is focused on employment law. A lawyer who practices primarily in another area of law may not have the specific technical knowledge to be able to spot flaws in the severance package or employment contract that will allow you to ask for more money from your former employer.
  11. Prior to meeting with the employment lawyer forward your employment contract and any relevant documents to the lawyer. It may be helpful if you provide the lawyer with a 1-page point form summary of your issues and concerns;
  12. Expect to spend an hour with the lawyer. It typically takes this long for the lawyer to thoroughly review your situation and provide you with feedback. The risk of spending less time with the lawyer is that the lawyer may miss key issues that impact your claim.
  13. Keep track of your job search while you are negotiating with your employer. You likely have a legal obligation to take reasonable steps to find new employment. Documenting your job search is an important part of the process.
  14. Most employers count on the fact that the vast majority of dismissed employees will accept the first severance package offered. As a result, employers’ first settlement offers are often lower than their employees’ legal entitlement. Do not be one of those employees who blindly accepts their employers’ first offer of a severance package. Employees who are prepared to stand up for their rights and demand a fair severance package are usually rewarded for doing so.
  15. Before accepting the settlement offer and signing the Release make sure you has settled all outstanding issues with your former employer. This includes agreeing on the terms of a reference letter.