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What kind of mistakes can get me fired?

If you’ve been fired from your job, your entitlement to severance pay, employment insurance, and more depend on the reasons for your termination.

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 incompetence.

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 warrant termination. 

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 to that):

  • 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 termination.

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.


Read more:

Canada Labour Program:

Ontario Ministry of labour:

B.C. Ministry of Labour:

Québec Ministry of Labour:

Alberta Ministry of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour: