Generally, an employer can fire a worker whenever they want as long as they give “notice of termination”. The employer can do this in two ways. They can tell the worker ahead of time, or pay them instead. Learn how much notice an employer needs to give — and when they don't need to give any notice.
Does the main legislation in BC that protects workers apply to you
Some types of workers aren’t covered by the main legislation protecting workers in BC. The legislation doesn’t apply to people who are:
- in licensed professions, such as doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants, architects, engineers and realtors
- in industries regulated by the federal government (for example, banks and airlines)
- in certain government incentive programs while receiving income assistance, disability benefits or Employment Insurance
- secondary-school students working at their school or in work-study programs
- primary- or secondary-school students working 15 hours or less a week as newspaper carriers
As well, the parts of the legislation dealing with dismissal don’t apply to people who are:
- student nurses
- voluntary or auxiliary firefighters
- commercial fishermen
Generally, your employer must give you notice (or pay) if they fire you
“Last month I was let go from my job after two years with the company. I was given two weeks’ notice, which didn’t feel like enough. I filed a complaint with the Employment Standards Branch. I attended a mediation session with my employer, and we were able to come to an agreement that I was much happier with.”
– Reggie, Port Moody
Generally, your employer can fire you whenever they want as long as they give you “notice of termination”. (There are some exceptions, such as if you are fired for "just cause"; see below under "Your employer may not need to give you any notice".)
There are two ways your employer can give you notice:
- They can warn you in advance that they plan to let you go. This advance warning is called the “notice period”.
- They can let you go right away. But then they have to pay you out. That is, they have to give you the money you would have earned during the notice period. This money is called “severance pay”.
Under the law, there is a minimum notice (or pay) your employer must give you depending on how long you’ve been in the job. You may be entitled to more, as — unless you have an employment contract that says differently — the notice you get must be “reasonable”. We explain what this means below.
The law sets out the minimum notice required
The main law protecting workers in BC sets the minimum notice period (or severance pay) depending on how long you’ve been in the job.
- If you’ve worked less than three months in a row, your employer doesn’t need to give you any notice.
- If you’ve worked for at least three months in a row, you’re owed at least one week’s notice (or one week’s severance pay).
- If you’ve worked for at least 12 months in a row, you’re owed at least two weeks’ notice or pay.
- If you’ve worked for at least three years in a row, you’re owed at least three weeks’ notice or pay.
- Beyond three years, the rule is: three weeks’ notice or pay plus a week for each additional year of service. The minimum notice period maxes out at eight weeks. So no matter how many more than eight years of service you’ve given your employer, the minimum required under the law is eight weeks’ worth of notice or pay.
The above notice periods are the legal minimum. You may be entitled to more notice or severance pay; see below.
You may be entitled to more than the legal minimum
Your employment contract might tell you how much notice your employer needs to give you before letting you go. But whatever your contract says, it can't be any less than the minimum notice required by law (see above).
The notice must be “reasonable”
If your contract doesn’t say anything about notice, the “reasonable notice” rule applies. What is reasonable notice? It is based on four key factors:
- Length of service: The longer you’ve been in the job, the more notice you're entitled to.
- Your age: Older workers tend to get longer notice periods.
- The type of job (its "character"): Workers in a managerial or supervisory role, or a job that requires specialized skills, tend to get more notice.
- The availability of similar jobs, including salary, at the time you’re dismissed: The more difficult it is likely to be to find a new job, the longer the notice period.
Some examples of what the courts consider to be “reasonable notice”
Past decisions of BC courts help shape what is considered “reasonable notice”. Here are some examples:
- A 46-year-old senior sales manager working at a sawmill for 26 years was entitled to 15 months’ notice.
- A 36-year-old store manager who worked with a fashion retailer for 12 years was awarded nine months' notice.
- A 43-year-old systems administrator with no managerial duties at a technology company for two and a half years was granted eight months’ notice.
- A 61-year-old bus driver working with a school bus company for five years was entitled to six months’ notice.
- A 31-year-old doing "jack of all trades" work with an electrical contractor for one year was awarded two months' notice.
The courts tend to award longer notice periods to more senior workers. For example, say you’re a top-level manager who oversees the work of several staff. All else being equal, you’ll receive a longer notice period than a worker with no supervisory role.
If you work in an industry going through an economic downturn, you’ll likely get a longer notice period. That’s because there will be fewer jobs available to you, and it will likely take you longer to find a new one.
The courts have generally recognized an upper limit for the notice period of 24 months. It would take “exceptional circumstances” to support a longer notice period.
The notice period may be affected by what steps you take to find a new job
You may be required to take steps to mitigate your loss of income and benefits. This means that, once you’re fired, you have an obligation to start looking for a new job. If you don’t, the amount of reasonable notice you’re entitled to might be affected. You may also have to look outside your industry for work if you have transferable job skills.
If you were fired without just cause, you may be able to sue your employer for “wrongful dismissal”. A judge may order your employer to pay you more than the minimum notice periods described above. See below under "Deal with the problem" and our page on what to do if you are fired.
Calculating the notice or pay you are entitled to
Your employer can give you notice or pay, or a combination of the two, as long as you get the right amount in total.
The law says your employer must pay you, during the notice period, the same as you had been earning for the past eight weeks in which you worked normal or average hours of work. To calculate what you’re owed:
- Take the total amount you earned in those eight weeks.
- Divide the total by eight. That gives you a weekly amount.
- Multiply that weekly amount by the number of weeks of notice.
Your employer must also pay you for any bonuses, benefits or allowances you would normally get during the notice period.
Before you accept severance pay from your employer, consider getting legal advice. You may be entitled to more than what your employer is offering. If you don’t have a lawyer, there are options for free or low-cost legal help.
How notice is given to you
Notice of termination must be specific, clear-cut, and clearly communicated to you. Your employer must give you notice directly. They can’t deliver it while you’re on vacation or a leave of absence, or during a strike or lockout.
Once you receive notice, your employer can’t change the terms of your employment — including your wage — without your consent.
If your employment continues after the notice period ends, the notice given to you has no effect.
Your employer may not need to give you any notice
There are exceptions to the above rules. In certain cases, under the main law protecting workers in BC, your employer does not have to give you notice or pay before firing you.
For instance: if you’ve done something seriously wrong that is incompatible with the employment relationship continuing. In that case an employer is said to have “just cause” to fire you. Learn what can amount to just cause in our page on if you are fired.
Notice is also not required if:
- you quit or retire
- you work on an on-call basis doing temporary assignments that you can accept or reject
- you’re employed for an agreed-upon length of time
- you’re hired for specific work to be completed in 12 months or less
- it’s impossible to perform your work because of some unforeseen event (other than bankruptcy)
- you work at a construction site, and your employer’s principal business is construction
- you refuse to accept another similar job
- you’re a teacher employed by a board of school trustees
If your employer wants to fire 50 or more workers at once
Under the law in BC, if your employer wants to fire 50 or more workers within a two-month period, they cannot just send out a mass email. They must give written notice to each worker affected. If you’re one of those workers, the notice must tell you:
- how many other workers are likewise being laid off
- the date your employment ends
- the reasons you’re being fired
Your employer must give notice with the following lead-times:
- If 50-100 workers will be fired, at least eight weeks before the first worker is fired.
- If 101-300 workers will be fired, at least 12 weeks before the first worker is fired.
- If 301 or more workers will be fired, at least 16 weeks before the first worker is fired.
If your employer fails to give you notice as required, they must pay you instead. Or, they can choose to give you a combination of notice and pay.
If you’re part of a group being fired as a result of a routine seasonal reduction in staff, you may not be entitled to notice or pay. See the “Your employer may not need to give you any notice” section above.
Step 1. Discuss the situation with your employer
If you don’t think you received the notice or pay you’re entitled to, first bring up the issue with your employer. Does your employment contract say anything about required notice? If not, ask your employer to explain how they decided on the amount of notice to give you.
Step 2. Download a self-help kit
As of June 2019, the requirement to use the self-help kit before filing a complaint with the Employment Standards Branch has been eliminated. You can proceed straight to step 3. We will be updating this content shortly to reflect the current law.
If you aren’t able to solve the problem directly with your employer, download the self-help kit from the provincial office that deals with workplace disputes, the Employment Standards Branch. The kit is designed to help workers and employers solve disputes quickly and fairly. It includes a form to request payment together with a letter that you submit to your employer.
Most workers are required to use the kit before they can file a formal complaint against their employer. But there are some exceptions. These are set out on the first page of the kit. Take a look and determine if any of the exceptions apply to you.
For more information about the self-help kit, see this factsheet.
If you send a request payment form to your employer, they have 15 days to respond.
Step 3. Consider your legal options
If you haven't been able to resolve matters directly with your employer or through the self-help kit, you have two options for taking action.
Option 1. File a complaint with the Employment Standards Branch
The Branch can help enforce your rights under the main BC law that protects workers. We explain the steps involved below.
Option 2. Bring a legal action against your employer
You can sue in court for wrongful dismissal. A judge may order your employer to pay you more money that the minimums set under the law.
If your lawsuit is for less than $35,000, you can sue in Small Claims Court. It’s faster and less complicated than suing in the BC Supreme Court. If your claim is for less than $5,000, it will be heard by the Civil Resolution Tribunal. This is an online tribunal that encourages a collaborative approach to resolving disputes.
Either way, note the time limits for taking action
There are time limits for filing a complaint or taking legal action. You must start a complaint with the Employment Standards Branch within six months from when you were fired. The time limit to sue in court is two years from when you were fired. There may be steps you can take to extend the time limit and preserve your rights. A lawyer can explain your options, and help you decide on the best course of action.
It is important to get legal advice at this point. Once you have started on one of these paths, you may be legally prevented from switching to or using the other process. It is also important to understand which option is best suited for your particular problem. If you don’t have a lawyer, there are options for free or low-cost legal help.
Step 4. To file an Employment Standards complaint
As of June 2019, the requirement to use the self-help kit before filing a complaint with the Employment Standards Branch has been eliminated. We will be updating this content shortly to reflect the current law.
If you decide to file a complaint with the Employment Standards Branch, note that except under limited circumstances you must complete the self-help kit (see step 2) before filing the complaint.
You must file your complaint within six months of the day your employment ended. If you are within 30 days of the end of the six-month time limit, you should file your complaint first and then use the self-help kit.
You can file a complaint in any of the following ways:
- Submit an online complaint form.
- Print a copy of the complaint form, fill it out, and mail or drop it off at the Employment Standards Branch nearest you.
- Fill out a hard copy of the complaint form at the Employment Standards Branch nearest you.
- Request a copy of the form by calling the Employment Standards Information Line at 1-800-663-3316.
There’s no charge for filing a complaint.
Submit any relevant documents (for example, your termination letter) with your complaint.
You can request in writing that your identity be kept confidential. An employer cannot fire you, refuse to employ you, or otherwise mistreat you for filing a complaint.
Step 5. Attend a mediation session
On receiving your complaint, the Employment Standards Branch will open a file. They’ll offer to resolve your complaint through mediation. Mediation is a meeting between you and your employer together with a neutral third party called a mediator. It may be a face-to-face meeting or it may be held by teleconference.
“Neutral” means the mediator is impartial. They don’t represent either party, act as an adviser, or provide legal advice. They have no decision-making authority, and can’t make a ruling on any of the issues. Their job is simply to help the two sides tackle the problem and agree to a solution instead of fighting it out in court.
The mediation session is conducted “without prejudice”. This means that nothing said during the session can be used in a later hearing.
If mediation solves the problem, the mediator will help you prepare a document called a “settlement agreement”. Both parties will sign the agreement and each will receive a copy. Once it’s signed, it becomes a legal document which can be filed and enforced at the BC Supreme Court.
If you can’t reach an agreement, the issue will proceed to a hearing before an adjudicator.
Step 6. Attend a hearing before an adjudicator
The purpose of an adjudication hearing is for the Employment Standards Branch to decide if your employer has broken the law. Most hearings are conducted by conference call, but some are held in person. You’ll receive a Notice of Complaint Hearing, which will tell you what to do.
The adjudicator’s job is to hear the backstory of the complaint from both sides. Both you and your employer present evidence. This includes any relevant documents (for example, your termination letter). You also have the right to call witnesses to give evidence.
Before the hearing, you should:
- review the Request for Payment form from the self-help kit, if used
- review the Agreed Statement of Facts from the mediation, if there is one
- list any points you want to make at the hearing
- make a list of questions you want to ask any witnesses
- make sure any witnesses you want to call are available to participate at the hearing
At the end of the hearing, the adjudicator will issue a written decision, called a “determination”. The determination is a legal document. It can be filed and enforced in the BC Supreme Court.
Step 7. Appeal the adjudicator’s decision
You have the right to appeal the determination of your hearing to the Employment Standards Tribunal.
The tribunal rules set out the following grounds for appeal:
- You think the adjudicator applied the law incorrectly.
- You don’t think the adjudicator observed the principles of natural justice (for example, you think the decision was unfair to you).
- More evidence has become available that wasn’t available at the time of the hearing.
The time limit for filing an appeal is:
- 30 days after the date you were served with the determination, if you were served by registered mail
- 21 days after the date you were served with the determination, if you were served personally, by fax, or electronically
To submit your appeal, you must:
- Fill out an Appeal Form.
- Deliver the Appeal Form to the tribunal within the appeal period.
- Deliver a copy of the determination, and the reasons for the determination, to the tribunal within the appeal period.
- Confirm that a copy of the Appeal Form has been delivered to the adjudicator.
If the tribunal finds that the grounds of appeal are met, it may confirm, change or cancel the determination. It may also choose to refer the matter back to the adjudicator for reconsideration. You’ll get a copy of the written reasons for the tribunal’s decision.
My employer fired me without just cause. How much severance pay do I get?
The main BC law protecting workers sets the minimum notice period your employer must give you, depending on how long you’ve been in the job. If you had an employment contract, it may say how much notice your employer must give you. But it can’t be any less than the minimum required under the law.
If you didn’t have an employment contract, you’re entitled to “reasonable” notice. There are several factors that determine what is reasonable. They include how long you were in the job, your age, the type of job, and the availability of similar jobs.
Importantly, your employer can choose to pay you “severance pay” instead of giving you notice. Let’s say your contract states your employer must give you two weeks’ notice before dismissing you. Your employer can choose to let you go on the spot, but they must pay you for those two weeks.
See above under “Understand your legal rights” for more on minimum notice periods and what is considered “reasonable” notice.
How much notice do I get under a fixed-term contract?
Usually, a fixed-term contract ends when the term expires. Reasonable notice is not required in this case.
If your employer wants to fire you before the end of the term, they may have to give you notice. Check your employment contract to see if it covers this. If the contract doesn’t say anything about how much notice or pay your employer must give you, and your employer lets you go, you might be able to sue your employer for breach of contract. Your claim would likely be for the wages you would have earned under the remainder of the contract.
What if I disagree with my employer about the amount of notice I deserve?
If you think you’re entitled to more notice or severance pay than what your employer gave you, you have options for taking action. You can file a complaint with the provincial office that deals with workplace disputes, the Employment Standards Branch. Or you can bring a legal action against your employer. For details, see the “Deal with the problem” section above.
The Employment Standards Branch deals with complaints if you’ve been fired and didn’t get the amount of notice or severance pay you’re entitled to.
Employment and Social Development Canada can help you bring a claim against your employer if you work in a federally regulated industry.