If the company you work for terminates your employment and you are offered too little in severance (or perhaps nothing at all), you may have a case for wrongful dismissal.
In British Columbia, your employer needs sufficient reason for terminating you, such as for serious misconduct, to send you away with nothing in hand. This is called a “with cause” or “just cause” dismissal. But the employer’s ability to actually prove the underlying misconduct necessary to justify that dismissal can be difficult. Not every instance of alleged “bad employee behaviour” is enough to warrant a termination. Other reasons, such as an economic downturn, may lead an employer to terminate an employee on a simple “without cause” basis. If you are terminated without cause, the employer should offer you some advance notice of when your employment will end (i.e., the “notice period”), or pay in lieu of such notice.
What determines a reasonable notice period, and thus the value of money damages in a wrongful dismissal case, depends on the circumstances. Every case is different. For some occupations, the law might assign two weeks per year of service as an award; for others, it’s closer to a month per year of service. This means if you have worked for a company for 20 years before being terminated on a without cause basis, you may have a claim worth as much as 20 months’ salary. If the termination occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, that may also be a relevant consideration, although the law has yet to say that being terminated during this time will necessarily lead to a longer notice period.
If you are terminated, you can probably expect your employer to offer you a severance package. Maybe you get asked to sign it within a week. The question naturally arises whether the package is fair. This is when clients are well-advised to talk to a lawyer on the adequacy of the severance offer. If the offer is too low, the lawyer can advise on how to deal with it strategically. If a better resolution cannot be negotiated, then the client can go to trial to have a court decide what the damages will be. Of course, litigation costs time and money. For this reason, employers are well-advised to offer just enough in severance to discourage the ex-employee from waiting for his day in court, the result of which is never guaranteed.
But this doesn’t always happen. Some severance packages are woefully inadequate. Other times they are not offered at all. In a nightmare scenario, the employer bases a just-cause dismissal on allegations that may not even be true. Without seeking legal advice, few may realize just how valuable their claim is really worth, particularly if they spent many years at the same company and were earning high incomes.
If you have worked for many years at the same place, only to be dismissed and provided a small severance package, or worse, no package at all, then you should seek legal advice immediately, as litigation deadlines apply. Same goes for employers who have terminated an employee or are about to terminate. Legal advice may assist in defending against a claim, or minimizing the liability for an impending or ongoing one.
If you have questions about what to do regarding a termination of employment, talk to the litigation lawyers at Sager Nairne without delay.