Whether employment standards law applies to you
Several factors affect your rights when your employment ends. A key one is whether you’re covered by employment standards law. Another is your employment contract.
Employment standards law
A BC law, the Employment Standards Act, sets minimum standards for employers in letting workers go. This law applies to “employees” — which covers most but not all workers in the province.
For example, independent contractors aren’t covered. Nor are workers in industries regulated by the federal government, or people in certain licensed professions. As well, the parts of the law dealing with dismissal don’t apply to some jobs, such as commercial fishermen. To learn if you’re covered, see our page on who’s covered by BC’s employment standards law.
Your employment contract
Second, your employment contract may include terms that deal with your employment ending. (Note there’s always an employment contract between a worker and an employer, even if nothing is in writing.)
Your contract rights may be greater than your rights under employment standards law (if that law applies to you). But your contract rights to certain things, such as pay and notice, cannot be less than the minimum standards the law sets. If they are, you’re still entitled to the minimum protections of the law.
Generally, your employer must give you notice (or pay) if they let you go
“Last month I was let go from my job after four years with the company. I was given one weeks’ notice, which didn’t feel like enough. I made a complaint to 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 let you go whenever they want as long as they give you notice of termination. (There are some exceptions, explained below.)
There are two ways your employer can give you notice:
- They can warn you in advance they plan to let you go. The time between the advance warning and the end of your employment 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.
The notice your employer gives you must be reasonable — unless you have an employment contract that says differently.
As well, for workers covered by the Employment Standards Act, there is a minimum notice your employer must give you depending on how long you’ve been in the job. You may be entitled to more, as we explain shortly.
Employment standards law sets out the minimum notice (or pay) required
- 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 full 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 full 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.
(To be clear: If you’ve worked less than three months in a row, your employer doesn’t need to give you any notice.)
The above notice periods are the legal minimum. You may be entitled to more notice or severance pay; read on.
You may be entitled to more than the legal minimum (aka reasonable notice)
Your employment contract may say how much notice you get. But if you’re covered by the Employment Standards Act (see who’s covered), it can't be any less than the minimum notice required by this law.
If your contract doesn’t say anything about notice, the law implies a term that your employer has to give you reasonable notice of dismissal. How much notice is reasonable? It depends on several factors, including:
- 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 is reasonable notice
Past decisions of BC courts help shape what is considered reasonable notice. Courts have awarded notice periods between a few months and 18 months in many cases. 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, if 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. Only the most senior and long-serving people get these awards.
The notice period may be affected by what steps you take to find a new job
You are required to take steps to mitigate your loss of income and benefits. This means that on being let go from your job, 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’ve been let go and feel you might be entitled to more notice or pay, you have options. For steps you can take, see below under "Work out the problem."
Your employer might offer you severance pay
Your employer can let you go right away, without providing notice, if they give you severance pay. This is money to compensate you for lost earnings during the notice period.
It should take into account all the compensation you’re losing, including wages, vacation pay, benefits, bonuses and other incentives.
If your employer gives you pay instead of notice and you’re covered by the Employment Standards Act (see who’s covered), the pay must be based on a set formula — your average weekly wages during your last eight weeks of normal work. Part-time workers are entitled to compensation based on the same formula.
An employer can give you a combination of notice and severance pay, as long as you get the right amount in total.
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 access to 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.
Your employer can’t deliver notice while you’re on vacation or a leave of absence, or during a strike or lockout.
During the notice period
An employer may give notice by telling you that your job will end on a particular date. Until that date, the employment contract continues — and so do your and your employer’s obligations under the contract. Your employer can’t change the terms of your employment — including your wage — without your consent.
You have a duty during the notice period to look for another job. You must make reasonable efforts to seek comparable work.
The employer may have a duty during the notice period to let you look for another job, so you won’t be unemployed when your current job ends.
If your employment continues after the notice period ends, the notice given to you has no effect.
Not everyone is entitled to notice
There are exceptions to the above rules. There are certain circumstances where your employer doesn’t have to give you notice or pay before letting you go.
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.
As well, 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
- you work at a construction site, and your employer’s principal business is construction
- you refuse to accept another similar job