If you quit a job voluntarily, this affects your legal rights to things like Employment Insurance benefits and compensation you are owed. Learn your rights if you quit your job.
Understand your legal rights
Your rights if you quit your job depend in part on the type of worker you are seen to be under the 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.
For example, it doesn’t apply to workers in industries regulated by the federal government, such as banks and airlines. Federal laws apply to them.
Nor does it apply to union workers. If you belong to a union, the collective agreement between your union and the employer governs your rights at work.
As well, this provincial law doesn’t apply to independent contractors. These are people who are self-employed, who run their own business. If you’re an independent contractor, your contracts with the people you work for control the situation.
If you quit your job, the Employment Standards Act does not require you to tell your employer ahead of time. However, your employment contract may require you to do so. (There’s always a contract between a worker and an employer. Even if nothing is in writing, an employment contract still exists.)
Workers with a lot of responsibility may have to give notice and can be legally liable if they do not. But these positions are uncommon and the circumstances are generally known to the worker when they take the position.
Even if you don’t have to give notice, it is usually a good idea to do so. Letting your employer know in advance gives them time to find someone to replace you. The amount of notice you give depends on several factors, including the type of job, how long you have had the job, and the general market conditions. Two weeks’ notice is common.
Giving your employer plenty of notice is recommended if you want your employer to give a good reference for you when you apply for a new job.
If you do give notice, the employer may accept or refuse the notice.
If they accept your notice, you are not entitled to compensation for length of service. (See our information on if you are fired, no. 241, for the minimum standards for notice or compensation if the employer is the one ending the work relationship.)
If the employer refuses the notice, or terminates you during the notice period, the employer must pay you compensation. They must pay you the lesser of the remaining amount of notice you have given, or the minimum notice period you are entitled to under the law (see our information on if you are fired for details).
Regardless of whether you notify your employer ahead of time that you’re quitting, they have six days from your last day of work to pay you all wages and pay owing. This includes any annual vacation pay, statutory holiday pay, and overtime either worked or in a time bank.
If you quit your job, you will usually not be eligible to receive Employment Insurance (EI) benefits. The exception to this rule is if you had no other reasonable choice except to leave your job. Some examples are:
- you experienced sexual or other harassment
- you experienced discrimination
- your working conditions were unsafe
- your employer was not paying you the wages that were legally owed to you
- your employer made major changes to your work duties
When you apply for EI, you will probably have to describe your situation and explain what steps you took to fix the problem before you quit. If you convince EI you had no other reasonable choice but to quit, you may be eligible to receive EI benefits. For more on eligibility for Employment Insurance benefits, visit canada.ca/ei or call 1-800-206-7218.
Sometimes a worker who quits their job doesn’t truly leave the job voluntarily. They may be reacting to a form of veiled dismissal. Instead of saying “you’re fired!”, an employer might do something more subtle that causes the worker to feel like they have no reasonable choice but to quit. It might be an unexpected demotion. Or a significant reduction in hours or pay.
If your employer changes your work situation in a fundamental way, and you don’t accept that change, you may have the same legal rights as someone who is fired. What happened to you is the legal equivalent of being dismissed. The law calls it “constructive dismissal”. This applies when your employer does something that:
- changes a key aspect of your employment in a major way, and
- is not something you should have expected, and
- you don’t agree to or accept.
If you’ve been constructively dismissed, you have the same rights as someone who was fired without cause. That includes the right to “notice” or “severance pay” from your employer. Severance pay is money you’re given in exchange for being let go without notice. See our guidance on if you are fired (no. 241) for details.
You can look for another job before you quit. If you don’t want your current employer to be contacted, indicate on your résumé and application that you are applying “in confidence”. This way you can still list your current job as part of your employment history.
Before making a final decision, an employer may ask for a current job reference. You can give the name of a co-worker if you don’t want your supervisor or employer to know.
This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
Reviewed in October 2017
Time to read: 5 minutes