Whether employment standards law applies to you
Several factors affect your rights if you’re fired. Two key ones are whether you’re covered by employment standards law, and 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 how your employment can be ended. (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.
If you’re fired and you’ve done nothing wrong
Generally speaking, your employer can fire you whenever they want as long as they give you notice of termination. (There are exceptions, explained shortly.)
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.
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. Your employment contract might say you get the employment standards minimum notice. If your contract is silent on notice, you are entitled to “reasonable” notice, which might be more than the minimum. For more on this, see our guidance on how much notice an employer needs to give you.
If you’re fired for “just cause”
“When I was working as bartender, I sometimes pocketed money when customers paid in cash. My supervisor caught me, and gave me a warning. I kept doing it. The third time my supervisor caught me, she fired me on the spot. That woke me up."
– Jamie, Maple Ridge
If you do something seriously wrong, an employer can fire you for just cause. In these situations, the employer doesn’t have to give you notice of termination.
What is just cause?
Just cause behaviour is where you do something seriously incompatible with the employment relationship continuing — to the point the employer cannot be expected to give you another chance.
For example, your employer might have just cause to fire you if you:
- are dishonest about something important
- steal from your employer
- put yourself into a conflict of interest (for example, setting up a business to compete with your employer)
- use drugs or alcohol in a way that interferes with your job performance
- intentionally disobey your boss
- repeatedly breach a clear workplace policy or rule
The burden of proving just cause is on the employer. In all but the most serious cases of misconduct, you are entitled to receive warnings and opportunities to improve before being dismissed for just cause.
Look carefully to see if there is just cause
If your employer fires you for just cause, they have to tell you what the reason is. Consider whether the reason really amounts to just cause.
For example, if you’re fired because your employer is losing money, going out of business, or reorganizing, those things are not just cause. Nor is being fired because your job becomes redundant or is eliminated by technological change. In all these cases, the employer must give you notice.
There are many factors in play in a “just cause” dismissal. If you don’t think your employer had grounds to fire you for just cause, see the “Work out the problem” section below.
Situations other than “just cause” where notice is not required
Getting fired for just cause is one situation where notice of termination is not required. There are some others. For example, notice is 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
If you’re fired for poor performance
If an employer is unhappy with your job performance, they can’t just fire you out of the blue — they must give you notice of termination. (For how much, see our guidance on how much notice an employer needs to give you.)
That said, an employer can let you go for poor performance (and not give you notice) if they can show all of the following:
- They established a reasonable standard of performance.
- They communicated the standard to you.
- You were clearly warned your performance was below the established standard — and that continued failure to meet the standard would result in dismissal.
- You were given a reasonable amount of time and assistance to meet the required standard of performance.
- You still failed to meet the standard.
You can’t be fired for doing something you have the legal right to do
Your employer can’t fire you for raising a health or safety issue or refusing unsafe work. If they do, you can make a complaint to WorkSafeBC.
If you’re covered by the Employment Standards Act (see who’s covered), your employer can’t fire you for doing something that’s permitted under this law. For example, you can’t be fired for any of the following:
- Taking pregnancy or parental leave.
- Taking an annual vacation if you’re entitled to it.
- Refusing to sign an agreement that will affect your rights (for example, an agreement about how you’ll be paid for overtime).
- Filing an employment standards complaint against your employer.
You can’t be fired for a reason that violates your human rights
Your employer is breaking BC's human rights law if they fire you because of:
- your race, colour, ancestry, ethnic origin, citizenship, or where you were born
- your religious beliefs
- a physical or mental disability that you have (including addiction)
- the fact you have children, plan to have children, or are pregnant
- your marital status (for example, married, divorced or single)
- your gender
- your sexual identity, gender identity, or gender expression
If you’re let go, and you believe it’s for one of these reasons, you can start a claim with the BC Human Rights Tribunal. Another option is to sue your employer for wrongful dismissal (see the “Work out the problem” section below).
You’re entitled to all outstanding wages
If you are fired, your employer must pay all your outstanding wages and vacation pay — no matter why you are fired. The Employment Standards Act requires the employer to pay these amounts within 48 hours of firing you. (See if you’re covered by the Act.)
Your employer must issue your record of employment
A record of employment — or ROE — is a kind of “receipt” of your job history. Your employer must give you an ROE when you stop working for them. The government uses your ROE to decide if you’re eligible to receive benefits such as employment insurance. (See “Work out the problem,” below.)
Your ROE must be issued within five days of the day you’re fired. Your employer can submit your ROE directly to Service Canada electronically, or prepare a paper copy and give it to you.
When you’re leaving a job, ask your employer if they’ll write you a reference letter. No law in BC says they have to, but most employers will do so as an act of good faith.