What you should know
Several factors affect your rights if you’re fired. 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 how they treat workers. 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 speaking, your employer can fire you whenever they want as long as they give you notice of termination.
There are two ways they can give you notice:
They can warn you in advance. This 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.
What is “reasonable” and what are the minimums? See our guidance on how much notice an employer needs to give.
If you do something seriously wrong, an employer can fire you for just cause. In these situations, the employer doesn’t have to give you notice of termination.
Just cause behaviour is where you do something seriously incompatible with the employment relationship continuing — to the point the employer cannot be expected to provide you with another chance.
For example, your employer might have just cause to fire you if you:
- are dishonest about something important
- steal from your employer
- repeatedly breach a clear workplace policy or rule
In all but the most serious cases of misconduct, you’re entitled to receive warnings and opportunities to improve before being dismissed for just cause.
(Tip: if your employer fires you for just cause, they have to tell you what the reason is.)
We have more on what amounts to just cause. See our in-depth info on this topic.
If an employer is unhappy with your job performance, they can’t just fire you out of the blue — they must give you notice of termination.
Unless they can show all of the following:
- They established a reasonable standard of performance, and communicated it to you.
- They warned you that you were falling short, and gave you reasonable time and help to meet the standard.
- And you still failed to meet the standard.
You can’t be fired for doing something you have the legal right to do. For example, your employer can’t fire you for raising a health or safety issue or refusing unsafe work.
If you’re covered by employment standards law, you can’t be fired for doing something permitted under that law. For example, your employer can’t fire you for taking an annual vacation you’re entitled to. Or making a complaint to the government office that administers that law.
Your employer is breaking BC’s human rights law if they fire you because of:
- your race, colour, ancestry, ethnic origin, citizenship, or where you were born
- your religious beliefs
- a physical or mental disability you have (including addiction)
- the fact you have children, plan to have children, or are pregnant
- your marital status
- your gender
- your sexual identity, gender identity, or gender expression
If you’re fired, your employer must pay all your outstanding wages and vacation pay — no matter why you are fired.
Your employer must also give you a record of employment. Your ROE is a form the employer prepares saying how long you worked for them and how much you earned. You’ll need this form to apply for employment insurance benefits.
Work out the problem
Step 1. Ask your employer why you've been fired
Legally speaking, your employer doesn’t need to give you a reason for firing you — unless you’re fired for just cause. But you should ask anyway.
If they do give you a reason, this can help you decide what to do next.
Step 2. Apply for benefits
Losing a job can mess up your finances in a hurry. It’s a good idea to apply for employment insurance benefits.
EI benefits are temporary payments made to people who lose their job through no fault of their own. The benefits are paid by the federal government.
There are time limits involved, so you should apply right away. See our guidance on applying for EI benefits.
Step 3. Start looking for work
Step 4. Gather relevant documents
Collecting any documents related to your firing can help clarify your thinking. They also can serve as evidence, should you end up in a hearing or trial.
Pull out your employment contract (if you have a written one).
Collect any letters, memos, or emails that help show why you were fired. Locate any documents that show how you asserted your rights as a worker.
Gather any paperwork your employer gave you when you were let go, including your Record of Employment.
If you’re dealing with serious work-related stress, consider getting medical treatment. Medical records are a very strong form of evidence.
Step 5. Consider your legal options
If you think your employer breached your legal rights by firing you, you may have as many as three options, depending on your situation.
If you’re covered by BC employment standards law, you can make an employment standards complaint. We explain the steps involved. See how to make an employment standards complaint.
If your employer fired you for a reason that violates your human rights, you can bring a human rights claim. You may be able to recover lost wages, or compensation for injury to your self-respect or dignity.
Or you can start a legal action against your employer. You can sue for wrongful dismissal. The amount you claim affects where you bring your lawsuit. If it’s for $5,000 or less, you can file online with the Civil Resolution Tribunal. This online tribunal can be a faster and cheaper option than court.
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 others. 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.
Who can help
Consider reaching out to these agencies for help if you lose your job.
Employment Standards Branch
Employment and Social Development Canada
BC Human Rights Tribunal
There are options for free legal advice.
Lawyer Referral Service
Access Pro Bono Clinics
People’s Law School
- This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
- Reviewed in April 2020
- Time to read: 7 minutes