WRONGFUL DISMISSAL AND SEVERANCE REVIEW
Wrongful Dismissal and Severance in Alberta
The term 'wrongful dismissal' applies to any situation where an employee has been terminated without fair treatment. It is sometimes called 'unjust dismissal' in the context of federally regulated employees. Even employees who have been offered severance packages, termination notice, or payment in lieu of notice, can be wrongfully dismissed. If the severance package is too low, or the termination notice is too short, the employee has been treated unfairly, and should act quickly to preserve his or her entitlements under the common law.
Your entitlement to common law reasonable notice is built into your relationship with your employer by default. Even employees who have no written contract have an implied right to reasonable notice of termination and/or a fair severance package.
Your right to severance pay is in in addition to what you are owed under provincial legislation, also known as the Employment Standards Code (the "Code"). The Code is a bare bones safety net that offers employees minimal protection. In the large majority of cases, employees are owed much more than what the Alberta Employment Standards Code say they are.
In fact, employees in Alberta are owed, on average, anywhere between 3 and 8 weeks of termination notice, or one to two month's worth of pay, per year they worked for their boss. The amount of notice that you are owed when you are fired depends on your unique circumstances. Only a qualified employment lawyer can help you understand what you are owed when you are fired. The most common factors to consider are your age, tenure, position/role, specialized skillset or experience, and the state of the economy in your industry.
It is very important that you do not sign any documentation presented to you at the time of your termination without first speaking to a lawyer, preferably an employment law expert or an attorney who specializes in employment law.
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Basic Information for Employees Terminated Without Cause
What if my employment contract contains a termination clause?
While a termination clause can negatively impact the amount of termination pay that you are owed, the clause has to be worded in a very particular manner. Even if you do have a termination provision, there is a very good chance that it may be unenforceable. Do not assume the worst, run your employment agreement by an employment attorney.
What if the Labour Standards Board has already told me I don't have a case?
The representatives at the Labour Standards Board are not lawyers. They are not trained in the common law and are not equipped to advise you on your full rights. Your entitlement to notice under the Code is only one aspect of a much broader spectrum of employment rights. Talk to an employment specialist, even if you have already spoken to the Board.
What if my employer has given me a deadline to sign my severance package?
Your right to fair compensation does not go away just because an employer has imposed a deadline. In fact, a short-term deadline is usually a red flag that your employer has offered you a bad severance package. Even so, it is important that you speak to a Calgary-based employment lawyer as soon as possible. We strive to accommodate same-day phone consultations whenever possible.
I am worried about my reputation in the industry. I do not want to burn any bridges.
There is no shame in standing up for your rights. At the end of the day, you and your employer have a contract, and they should be living up to their end of the bargain. Most severance negotiations are highly professional, private and confidential, and do not jeopardize an employee's prospects of future employment. In fact, it is in your employer's best interest to see that you secure comparable employment elsewhere.