If you’ve been fired from your job, your entitlement to severance
pay, employment insurance, and more depend on the reasons for your
Terminated without cause means you’ve been let go through no
fault of your own. There may be layoffs, budget cuts, or your job isn’t
required anymore. Regardless, it wasn’t a disciplinary measure.
Terminated with cause means you’ve acted in a way that
fundamentally breaches your employment contract. This can include a wide
range of workplace transgressions such as theft, disobedience, and
See: Do I have a valid wrongful dismissal claim?
You may have been terminated after making a mistake on the job.
If so, you may question whether your error was serious enough to
A 2001 Supreme Court of Canada case, based on termination for
misconduct, established an important test that has influenced many other
cases. In deciding McKinley v. BC Tel, the justices said: “an effective balance must be struck between the severity of an employee’s misconduct and the sanction imposed.”
When weighing termination for employee mistakes, employers
should consider the following factors (because a judge will, if it comes
- The severity of the mistake;
- Your length of service and overall performance;
- Frequency or abundance of other errors;
- Whether it was accidental or intentional.
- The mistake’s impact on the business, its reputation and ability to function;
- If it created a safety risk to others;
- Whether you take responsibility for the mistake.
Past court cases highlight the importance of some of these factors.
Taking responsibility: Denying, hiding or
refusing to own your mistake can be as significant as the mistake
itself. In a 2004 case in British Columbia, a judge ruled that an
employee’s error was not serious enough to get them fired, but their
refusal to acknowledge the mistake was insubordination and justifiable
grounds for termination.
Frequency and abundance of mistakes: While
some mistakes may not be enough to justify termination on their own, a
whole string of them can be a different story. In a 2004 Ontario case, a
judge upheld the firing of an employee who’d been disciplined nine
times for various issues including: absenteeism; intoxication; and
carelessness that caused work stoppages and loss of productivity. The
employee often accepted responsibility for his mistakes. But the judge
said his continued carelessness pointed to a rejection of his contract
and a company is “not required to continue to accept an ongoing substandard level of performance.”
Severity: A long record of unblemished
service isn’t enough to overcome a serious mistake. Take for example a
2012 Ontario case where a 23-year employee was fired after drunkenly
crashing the company vehicle he took without authorization. He claimed
wrongful dismissal, but his actions were judged severe enough to warrant
So if you’ve lost your job for mistakes you’ve made, consider
how major they were before you pursue any legal action. To err is human,
but employers don’t have to tolerate too much of it.
Canada Labour Program: http://www.labour.gc.ca/eng/home.shtml
Ontario Ministry of labour: http://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/es/
B.C. Ministry of Labour: http://www.labour.gov.bc.ca/esb/
Québec Ministry of Labour: http://www.cnt.gouv.qc.ca/en/
Alberta Ministry of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour: http://work.alberta.ca/employment-standards.html