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How much notice an employer needs to give

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Generally, an employer can let a worker go at any time as long as they give notice of termination. 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.

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.

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

A second factor that comes into play is your employment contract. It 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 the protections in employment standards law. But — if employment standards law applies to you — your contract rights to 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 can let you go at any time as long as they give you notice of termination. (There are some exceptions, explained shortly.)

There are two ways your employer can give you notice:

  • They can warn you in advance. This 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 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 (with one exception: if your employment contract spells out how much notice you get).

For workers covered by employment standards law, there is a minimum notice your employer must give you depending on how long you’ve been in the job.

If you’re covered by BC employment standards law, these are the minimum notice requirements.

  • 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.

Importantly, you may be entitled to more than the legal minimum. That’s because (unless your employment contract says how much notice you get), the notice you get must be reasonable.

How much notice is reasonable? It depends on several factors, including:

  • Length of service. More time in the job means more notice.
  • Your age. Older workers tend to get more notice.
  • Type of job. Jobs with more responsibility or specialized skills tend to get more notice.
  • The availability of similar jobs. The harder it is to find a new job, the more notice.

We have more on what is reasonable notice. See our in-depth coverage of this topic.

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

It should take into account all the compensation you’re losing, including wages, vacation pay, benefits, bonuses and other incentives.

An employer can give you a combination of notice and severance pay, as long as you get the right amount in total.

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.

We have coverage of what can amount to just cause. See our information 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

There are steps you can take if you were let go and didn’t receive the notice or pay you’re entitled to.

Step 1. Gather your thoughts

Step 2. Discuss the situation with your employer

Step 3. Write your employer a letter

Step 4. Consider your legal options

Step 5. Start looking for work

Step 1. Gather your thoughts

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 notice?

Confirm whether you’re covered by employment standards law. If you are, note the minimum level of notice that applies in your case. See “What you should know” for more on this.

Step 2. Discuss the situation with your employer

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.

Step 3. Write your employer a letter

If discussing the issue with your employer doesn’t work, consider writing them a letter. Explain your concerns in detail.

We offer tips that might help. See how to write a letter to your employer.

If you can’t solve the problem directly with your employer, you might consider more formal options.

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

You can start a legal action against your employer. You can sue for wrongful dismissal. The amount you claim affects where you bring a lawsuit. If your claim is for $5,000 or less, you can file online with the Civil Resolution Tribunal. It’s faster than going to court, and designed to help parties resolve their dispute collaboratively.

In deciding between these options, it’s valuable to get legal advice. Once starting on one of these paths, you may be legally prevented from using the other process. Plus, there are time limits in play for each process.

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

Step 5. Start looking for work

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.

Want more on these steps and your legal rights on losing a job? See our in-depth coverage of this topic.

Who can help

Consider reaching out to these agencies if you don’t get the notice or pay you feel you’re entitled to on losing a 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
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 April 2020
  • Time to read: 5 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Ashley Syer, Syer Law

Ashley Syer, Syer 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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