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.)
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.
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.
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
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.
Step 4. Consider your legal 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.
There are options for free legal advice.