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Constructive dismissal: When your job changes in a big way

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If your employer changes your job in a major way (and you don’t accept the change), you may have the same legal rights as someone who gets fired outright. The law calls this constructive dismissal.

What you should know

Instead of saying “you’re fired!”, an employer might do something more subtle that is effectively like firing you. It may be an unexpected demotion. Or a significant reduction in hours or pay.

You may have experienced constructive dismissal.

This applies when your employer does something that:

  • changes a key aspect of your employment in a major way, and
  • isn’t something they're allowed to do under your employment contract, and
  • you don’t agree to or accept.

If you’ve been constructively dismissed, you have the same rights as someone who’s fired without cause. That includes the right to notice (or pay instead). We have information on how much notice an employer needs to give.

Not every change to your job will amount to constructive dismissal. It needs to be something pretty serious.

Some things that can rise to the level of constructive dismissal include:

  • Your employer lowers your wages.
  • Your employer takes away your core duties and lowers your position in the organization.
  • Your employer abuses you, harasses you, or discriminates against you in a way that violates your human rights.

On the other hand, some changes aren’t serious enough to be constructive dismissal. For example, if you’re asked to work at a different location in the same city.

Changes to something you’ve already agreed to be flexible about are not constructive dismissal. For example, if you were told on getting hired that your work schedule could change, and you said you were okay with that.

If your employer changes your job, and you continue working without objecting, you may lose some legal rights. This is called condonation. By failing to object, you’re basically saying you want to continue in your job despite the changes.

You also need to take steps to minimize any financial loss. The law calls this mitigation. A person who suffers harm must take steps to mitigate (or limit) their loss.

For example, say your employer cuts your wage. You start looking for a new job, and they invite you to continue working at the reduced wage in the meantime. Refusing this offer may be seen as failing to mitigate your loss.

In a similar vein, if you leave your job, you have to make a reasonable effort to find a new one.

Workers covered by employment standards law have additional rights when their employer makes a big change to their job.

Under this law, if your employer “substantially alters” a condition of employment, a government office can determine your employment has ended. Full stop. You would be entitled to the minimum notice or pay required under the law.

Need help figuring out if employment standards law applies to you? See our information on who’s covered.

Work out the problem

There are steps you can take if your employer has made big changes to your job.

Step 1. Get legal advice

Step 2. Gather your evidence

Step 3. Decide to quit or continue to work

Step 4. Consider your legal options

Step 5. Apply for employment insurance

Proving constructive dismissal can be tricky. If your employer makes big changes to your job you don’t agree to, it’s a good idea to get legal advice right away.

Don’t have access to a lawyer? There are options for free or low-cost legal advice.

Step 2. Gather your evidence

Some documents can help you make the case you were constructively dismissed. These include:

  • your employment contract or job description
  • any letters or emails between you and your employer about what you agreed to when you started the job
  • anything in writing from your employer discussing changes to your job or working conditions

Step 3. Decide to quit or continue to work

Before long, you need to make a decision one way or the other. This can be tricky. If you keep working, you may weaken your claim for constructive dismissal. But leaving brings its own risks.

Depending on the situation, you might consider more formal options for taking action.

One option is to sue for constructive dismissal. The amount you claim affects where you bring a lawsuit. If it’s for less than $5,000, you can use the Civil Resolution Tribunal. This online tribunal can be a faster and cheaper option than court.

If you’re covered by BC employment standards law, you can make an employment standards complaint. You make the complaint to the government office that administers that law. We have information on the steps involved. See how to make an employment standards complaint.

Step 5. Apply for employment insurance

If you decide to quit, you might be eligible for employment insurance benefits. (You will have to show you had a good reason to quit.)

There are time limits involved, so you should apply right away. See our guidance on applying for EI.

We go deeper into these steps and your rights, if you're looking to go further. See our in-depth coverage of constructive dismissal.

Who can help

Consider reaching out to these agencies for help if your employer has made big changes to your job.

BC government logo, for use on cards such as Employment Standards Branch
Employment Standards Branch
The BC government office that deals with complaints against employers.
Call 1-800-663-3316Visit website
Service Canada logo
Service Canada
Can help with questions or concerns about employment insurance benefits.
Call 1-800-206-7218Visit website

There are options for free legal advice.

Access Pro Bono logo
Lawyer Referral Service
Helps you connect with a lawyer for a free half-hour consult.
Call 1-800-663-1919Visit website
Access Pro Bono logo
Access Pro Bono Clinics
Volunteer lawyers provide free legal advice to people with limited means.
Call 1-877-762-6664Visit website
People's Law School logo, large
People’s Law School
See more options for free or low-cost legal help.
Visit website

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed in May 2020
  • Time to read: 5 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Richard Johnson, Ascent Employment Law

Richard Johnson, Ascent Employment Law

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This information from People’s Law School explains in a general way the law that applies in British Columbia, Canada. The information is not intended as legal advice. See our disclaimer.

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Dial-A-Law has more information on Leaving a job in the section on Work.