What happens when you get laid off in Ontario?

The possibility that you will get fired or laid off in Ontario is rising. The Canadian economy shrank in February. Falling resource production, a weak oil and gas sector, and tough winter conditions took their toll.

Here in Ontario, the unemployment rate edged up from 5.7% to 5.9% in March. That’s above the national average. In total, Ontario lost 11,600 full-time jobs in the month.

This article explains your rights if you are fired or laid off in Ontario, and what you should do next.

When can you get fired or laid off in Ontario?

Your employer can let you go immediately, but will usually give you notice. The length of notice depends on several factors. These include how long you have worked for your employer.

How much notice should I be paid?

Usually, the amount of notice your employer pays you depends upon your notice period. Your employer might let you go straight away. If this is the case, they should still pay you according to your notice period. The Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) stipulates the minimum notice as:

  • One week if you have been with your employer for at least three months
  • Eight weeks if you have been with your employer for at least eight years

You may have signed a contract that limits termination payment below the ESA minimum. Despite this, a court will award you at least the ESA minimum.

You might be entitled to more than these minimum payments. Examples when this might be the case, include if:

  •  You have worked for your employer for a very long time
  •  Your job is highly specialized, and it will be difficult to find a similar job
  •  You were convinced to leave a previous employer to join your current employer
  • You are an older worker

Does my employer have to give me a reason for firing me?

If your employer gives you notice, no. But, there are reasons why you may not be fired or laid off in Ontario. Many of these relate to discrimination. For example, your employer can’t fire you for being pregnant.

Can my employer fire me in Ontario without notice?

In some circumstances, yes; for example, if you have worked for less than three months for your employer. Otherwise, they must have a good reason to do so. Such a reason might include misconduct such as you:

  • Stole from your employer
  • Were abusive or threatening to someone at work
  •  Assaulted a colleague
  • Refused to carry out the duties of your job

If this happens to you, you should seek legal advice immediately. Employers make mistakes. It may be that your employer should have given you a warning first. Perhaps the event that led to you being fired was not as serious as your employer says.

Should my employer pay me severance pay?

If you have worked for your employer for more than five years, you could be entitled to severance pay. This is different from termination pay. However, severance pay rules are complicated. As a general guideline, for severance pay to apply your employer must:

  •  pay wages of at least $2.5 million a year, or;
  •  be laying off at least 50 people within six months

If you are due severance pay, your employer should pay at the rate of one week’s pay for each year you have worked for the employer. The maximum severance pay is 26 weeks.

In some cases, you could lose your right to severance pay; for example, if your employer is laying people off because its business has been severely harmed by strike action.

Another reason that you might not be entitled to severance pay is that your employer offered you another job, but you refused it.

When will I be paid what I’m owed?

If your employer owes you wages, vacation pay or termination pay, they must pay you by either:

  • seven days after your employment is terminated, or;
  • by your next regular pay date

–    whichever is the later.

You could agree that your employer pays severance pay to you in installments. In this case, you must be paid within three years. If your employer misses a payment, the balance becomes payable immediately.

When should I apply for employment insurance (EI) benefits?

If you are fired or laid off in Ontario, you should apply for EI immediately. If you don’t apply within four weeks, you may not receive as many EI payments.

Your employer must provide a Record of Employment (ROE). They will either give this to you or send it to the government electronically. Even if you don’t have this, apply for EI. Take proof of employment (e.g., pay stubs and T4 slips) with you when applying for EI.

I was fired for misconduct. Can I get employment insurance (EI) benefits?

Probably not. However, misconduct cases are not always clear cut, so you should still apply for EI.

If I am fired or laid off in Ontario, how does my union membership affect me?

You may have additional rights as a member of a union. You should check your collective agreement. You may also talk to your union representative. Either way, you should discover what rights you have because of your union membership.

Could I get my job back after being fired or laid off in Ontario?

It is unusual to get your job back after being fired, but not unheard of.

If you think you were fired because you exercised your legal rights, you should seek legal advice. Such cases might include:

  • Taking parental leave
  • Refusing to sign an agreement affecting your rights
  • Making a claim against your employer

Other circumstances in which you might get your job back include being fired because:

  •  Of your race, sex, age, disability, or other discrimination or violation of human rights
  • You raised a concern about health and safety issues
  • You raised a concern about your employer not obeying environment protection laws

You’ve been laid off in Ontario. What should you do?

If you have been fired, stay calm. The legal language in many termination-of-employment documents is difficult to understand. Therefore, don’t sign any paperwork until you have had time to consider it fully.

What you do first may depend upon your personal circumstances. You may wish to seek legal advice, but for many unemployed people, the cost of a lawyer is unaffordable. However, you can obtain legal information from a lawyer in a free 30-minute consultation. To do this, you should contact the Lawyer Referral Service.

Our advice is to gather all your documents and paperwork together before this free consultation and make sure that you have all the questions you want to be answered written down. Being organized will help you to make the most of your 30 minutes.

The legal points you wish to have answered might include:

  • How much termination pay and severance pay you should receive?
  • Should you file a claim with the Ministry of Labour or go to court?
  • What are your rights now that you are unemployed?

Because of the cost of legal advice, it is more common to take the following steps:

  1. File for EI. You can do this online here. Whether or not you are seeking legal advice, you should do this straight away.
  2. Apply for social assistance. You might get help with income support to meet your basic costs, such as food, clothing, and shelter. You may also receive assistance to help you find a new job. This can include job counselling, specific training, and workshops on resume writing and interviewing. You can apply for social assistance online or in person at your local Ontario Works office.
  3. You’ll want to get back to work as soon as possible. Finding a new job can be a daunting process. This resource for jobseekers will help you identify your key skills, access training, and determine which jobs are in demand.

If you do meet with a lawyer and they assess that you should be paid more termination or severance than you have been offered, often an employer will agree on an amount of notice rather than paying the cost of going to court.

Finally, don’t rely on your notice to sort out your finances. Take action to protect your financial position. Get in touch with Adamson and Associates.