Getting laid off

Two men in warehouse, sitting on stack of building supplies

Your employer says they have to lay you off or asks you to work fewer hours “until things pick up.” Learn your rights if you're laid off from work.


Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many BC workers are being temporarily laid off. Emergency financial support is available, including for those who remain job-attached but earn no more than $1,000 per month. We unpack these emergency benefits for workers. See our 3-minute summary.

What you should know

Generally speaking, an employer can lay you off whenever they want as long as they give you notice of termination.

There are two ways they can do this. They can warn you in advance. This is called the notice period. Or they can let you go right away. But then they have to pay you the money you would have earned during the notice period. This money is called severance pay.

There are rules around how much notice (or pay) an employer needs to give — and when they don't need to give any (such as if they had just cause to fire you). See our guidance on how much notice an employer needs to give and if you are fired.

A temporary layoff is when an employer tells a worker they must take an unpaid leave from work. The law in BC doesn’t give employers a general right to temporarily lay off workers.

Temporary layoffs are only legal if one of the following applies:

  • You have a written employment contract that allows for a layoff.
  • You work in an industry where layoffs are standard practice.
  • You consent to the layoff.

Your employer must prove they had the right to lay you off for one of these reasons.

If you’re let go temporarily and none of the above apply, you have the same rights as someone who’s let go without cause. That means you’re entitled to notice (or pay). See our information on how much notice an employer needs to give.


If you're laid off for reasons related to the coronavirus pandemic, the maximum length of a temporary layoff has been extended to 24 weeks, ending on or before August 30, 2020. This is up from the usual 13 weeks, as described below.

If a temporary layoff is permitted in your situation, and if you’re covered by employment standards law, there are limits on how long the layoff can last. Your employer can temporarily lay you off for up to 13 weeks in a consecutive 20-week period. (This limit has been extended during the coronavirus pandemic to 24 weeks.)

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

If the layoff lasts more than 13 weeks in a consecutive 20-week period, it’s no longer “temporary.” It would be treated as if you were fired without cause on the first day of the layoff.

If you’re covered by employment standards law and your employer reduces your weekly hours so you’re earning less than half of your regular wage, this counts as a week’s layoff. That is, it counts as one week towards the 13-week “temporary layoff” period.

Work out the problem

There are steps you can take if you’re laid off.

Step 1. Tell your employer if you don’t consent to the layoff

Step 2. Make an employment standards complaint

If you don’t consent to the layoff, let your employer know right away. Do it in writing. Keep a copy.

Step 2. Make an employment standards complaint

You can challenge the layoff. If you’re covered by employment standards law, you can make a complaint to the government office that administers that law.

We explain the steps involved. See our information on making an employment standards complaint.

For more steps to consider, see our information on if you've been fired.

Who can help

Consider reaching out to these agencies for help if you are laid off.

BC government logo, for use on cards such as Employment Standards Branch
Employment Standards Branch
Deals with complaints against employers relating to layoffs.
Call 1-800-663-3316Visit website
Employment and Social Development Canada logo
Employment and Social Development Canada
Deals with complaints against employers in federally-regulated industries.
Call 1-800-641-4049Visit 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 March 2020
  • Time to read: 4 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Trevor Thomas, Ascent Employment Law

Trevor Thomas, 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.


On Dial-A-Law

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