What are my rights?
Generally, an employer can let a worker go 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.
What you should know
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.
“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, BC
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.
For workers covered by the Employment Standards Act (see who’s covered), the law sets minimums for the notice period (or severance pay) depending on how long you’ve been in the job.
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.)
You may be entitled to more notice or severance pay
The above notice periods are the legal minimum. You may be entitled to more notice or severance pay; read on.
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 don't think you received the notice you're entitled to
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 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.
Get legal advice before accepting a severance package
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.
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.
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.
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
Work out the problem
If you’ve been let go and feel you might be entitled to more notice or pay, first have a look at your employment contract. Does it say anything about required notice?
If your contract is silent on notice, you’re entitled to reasonable notice. See above, under “What you should know,” for the factors that go into determining what is reasonable.
Confirm whether you’re covered by the Employment Standards Act. (See our page on who’s covered.) If you are, your employer must give you at least the minimum notice or pay set out in this law. The minimums are explained above, under “What you should know.”
If you’re comfortable doing so, reach out to your employer. Ask them to explain how they decided on the amount of notice to give you.
Tips for talking with your employer
Approaching your boss can be stressful. We offer tips for talking with your employer.
If discussing the issue with your employer doesn’t work, consider writing them a letter. Explain your concerns in detail. For example, you could say something like:
“I worked as an employee for you for 18 months. [Modify to fit your situation.] Accordingly, under the BC Employment Standards Act, I’m entitled to at least two weeks’ notice or pay. Court cases suggest that reasonable notice in a situation like mine would be in the range of one to two months. Yet I was only given one week’s notice before my job ended. I’d like to explore solutions to this issue with you as soon as possible.”
We offer tips for writing a letter to your employer.
Keep a copy of the letter for your files. Having a written record could be useful if you need to take additional steps.
If you haven't been able to resolve matters directly with your employer, there are further options for taking action.
Make an employment standards complaint
This is an option available to workers covered by the Employment Standards Act (see our page on who’s covered). If you think your employer has not met the minimum requirements under this law, you can make a complaint to the Employment Standards Branch. This is the government office that administers the Act.
For the steps to take, see our guidance on making an employment standards complaint.
Bring a legal action against your employer
An option available to any worker is to sue your employer for wrongful dismissal. You might claim you were entitled to a longer notice period based on your contract or what is reasonable.
For example, let’s say you were in a job for six years, and your employment contract didn’t say anything about notice. If you’re seen to be an employee under the Employment Standards Act, you’re entitled a minimum of six weeks’ notice or pay. In a wrongful dismissal lawsuit, you could be awarded more, based on what would be reasonable notice.
The amount you claim affects where you bring your lawsuit. If it’s for more than $5,000 and up to $35,000, you can sue in Small Claims Court. It’s faster and less involved than suing in the BC Supreme Court. If your claim is for $5,000 or less, you can file online with the Civil Resolution Tribunal. It's faster yet again, and designed to help parties resolve their dispute collaboratively.
Either way, note the time limits for taking action
There are time limits for making a complaint or taking legal action. You must start a complaint with the Employment Standards Branch within six months after your last day of work. The time limit to sue is two years from when you were let go. 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's a good idea to get legal advice
It is important to get legal advice at this point. Once starting on one of these paths, you may be legally prevented from using the other process. It is also important to understand which option is best suited for your situation. There are options for free or low-cost legal help.
Once your employment has ended, start looking for another job right away. You have a duty to seek new and comparable work, even during the notice period.
Keep detailed records of your job search, including copies of your application letters and emails, as well as any replies you get.
If you had an employment contract, it may say how much notice your employer must give you.
If your contract says nothing about notice of termination, 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.
If you’re covered by the Employment Standards Act (see who’s covered), this law sets the minimum notice your employer must give you, depending on how long you’ve been in the job. (Any notice set out in your contract can’t be any less than the minimum required under the law.)
Importantly, your employer can choose to pay you severance pay instead of giving you notice. If, for example, your contract states your employer must give you two weeks’ notice before dismissing you, they can choose to let you go on the spot, but they must pay you for those two weeks.
See above under “What you should know” for more on minimum notice periods and what is considered reasonable notice.
If you have a fixed-term employment contract — for example, a two-year term — the contract controls how much notice you get. The contract may say the notice period goes to the end of the term, or it could set a shorter notice period. If the contract says nothing about notice of termination, and the employer lets you go, they must pay the balance of the wages and benefits owed for the remainder of the fixed term. (You have a duty to look for other comparable work during that period.)
Once your fixed-term contract is finished, your employer doesn’t have to give you notice or pay.
If you think you’re entitled to more notice or severance pay than what your employer gave you, your options depend on whether you’re covered by the Employment Standards Act. (See our page on who’s covered.) If you are, you can make a complaint with the provincial office that deals with workplace disputes, the Employment Standards Branch.
Whether or not you’re covered under the Act, you can bring a legal action against your employer.
For details, see the “Work out the problem” section above.
No. If your employer gives you notice of termination during your annual vacation, while you are on a leave, or during a strike or lockout, the notice is not legally valid. Your employer must wait until you return to work before giving you notice of termination.
If you’re covered by the Employment Standards Act (see who’s covered), special rules apply to “group terminations.” These rules apply if an employer fires 50 or more workers at a single location within a two-month period. (There are some exceptions, such as where the terminations are part of a normal seasonal reduction in staff.)
With group terminations, the workers are entitled to more notice than the usual minimum requirements. The amount of notice required depends on the total number of workers who are being let go. The 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.
As well, the employer 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
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.
Who can help
Employment Standards Branch
Employment and Social Development Canada
Access Pro Bono's Free Legal Advice
Access Pro Bono’s Everyone Legal Clinic
Lawyer Referral Service
BC Legal Directory