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jeff@goldsteinlawyers.ca 647-838-6740

Severance Package as Lump Sum Payment or Salary Continuance

When an employee is terminated from their employment without cause, they are entitled to a severance package. The amount of severance they are entitled to is based on the Employment Standards Act (“ESA”) in Ontario and the common law (i.e., judge-made law). The common law has evolved with various precedent cases that have set out factors that are relevant in determining a terminated employees severance pay entitlements. Common law severance entitlements are much greater than the statutory minimum entitlements outlined in the ESA.

Note that this discussion only applies to employees that have been terminated without cause from their employment. Those employees that have been terminated for just cause are not entitled to any severance; however, as we have discussed here in our article on terminated senior executive employees for just cause, and as outlined by the Supreme Court of Canada the threshold for establish just cause is very high. The onus of establishing just cause is on the employer – and if they are unable to satisfy the onus, the employee is then entitled to severance pay and was subject to a wrongful dismissal.

Are You Entitled to Severance Pay Based on the Common Law?
The analysis as to whether a terminated employee is entitled to common law “reasonable notice” of termination, over and above the minimum statutory entitlements prescribed in the ESA (which amounts to one-week per year worked of termination pay, up to a maximum of 8 weeks total; and 1 week of severance pay [subject to satisfying various conditions] up to a maximum of 26 weeks of pay) is firstly based on the terms of the employment contract.

Prudent employers will seek to include “termination clauses” in employment contracts which limit the amount of severance an employee is entitled to upon the without cause termination of employment. The specific language of the clause is very important in determining its enforceability; as such, it is important that employees reach out to a qualified employment lawyer to review the terms of contract. If such clauses are deemed enforceable, which is based on the strict language of the clause, then the employees entitlement upon termination will be limited. If, however, there is an argument that the clause would be unenforceable, this can often mean 10’s of thousands of additional severance entitlements for the employee.

If you are deemed entitled to reasonable notice of termination based on the common law, the employer can pay out your severance in one of two ways: (i) on a lump sum basis; and (ii) on a salary continuance basis. The employer does not have the obligation to pay employees on a lump sum basis despite the oft-held preference. With respect to salary continuance severance payouts, employers will often include a “claw-back” clause, which serves to reduce the remaining severance payments (i.e., by 50.0% of the amounts owing) should the employee secure comparable employment during the notice period.

This clawback clause relates to the employees duty to mitigate its damages following the termination of employment – by seeking out new and comparable employment. The language behind the salary continuance clauses and the severance package agreements in generally should be reviewed by an employment lawyer in the province in which you reside to ensure you are protected to the fullest extent of the law.

Temporary Lay-Offs due to COVID. Employer & Employee Rights and Obligations

Where an employer changes a fundamental term of employment, this may constitute constructive dismissal. It is difficult to imagine a more fundamental term of employment than that the employee be paid his or her salary. Since COVID-19 has resulted in significant business closures, many employees have been temporarily laid-off and are no longer being paid their salary.

Typically, where no agreement (employment contract) exists that expressly indicates that the employer was entitled to layoff the employee for any period of time, the employer cannot simply place an employee’s employment status on hold without pay and without substantial benefits and expect that this will not constitute constructive dismissal. If the demotion of an employee or a reduction in pay and responsibilities of an employee constitute constructive dismissal, then surely indefinite suspension with no guarantee of recall, no salary and virtually no benefits must also qualify for the same treatment at law.

In its clear and plain wording, the Employment Standards Act (ESA) allows for temporary layoffs and an employee is not terminated (for the purpose of the statute) until and unless his or her temporary layoff exceeds the time frames allowed by s. 56(2), prior to which time he or she is not entitled to termination or severance pay pursuant to O.Reg 288/01. If the layoff does exceed the timelines, then the employee has been terminated.

That said, the temporary layoff provisions of the ESA operate separately from an employees common law rights. The ESA provisions are intended to provide protection to employees in situations where layoffs are otherwise permitted as an express term of the employment contract by limiting temporary layoffs to the maximum time periods stated in the ESA.

“Temporary layoff” is a defined term[8] in the ESA, as follows:

A layoff of more than 13 weeks in any period of 20 consecutive weeks, if the layoff is less than 35 weeks in any period of 52 consecutive weeks and,

                                       i.              the employee continues to receive substantial payments from the employer;

                                    ii.              the employer continues to make payments for the benefit of the employee under a legitimate retirement or pension plan or a legitimate group or employee insurance plan;

                                   iii.              the employee receives supplementary unemployment benefits; and

                                   iv.              the employee is employed elsewhere during the layoff and would be entitled to receive supplementary unemployment benefits if that were not so,

Section 56(4) allows an employer to layoff an employee without specifying a recall date without being considered to have terminated the employment unless the period of layoff exceeds that of a temporary layoff.

Section 56(1)(c) provides that an employer terminates the employment if it lays the employee off for a period longer than the period of a temporary layoff.

Section 54 provides that no employer shall terminate the employment of an employee who has been continuously employed for three months or more absent written notice of termination under the act or having made appropriate payment in lieu of such notice.Section 56(1) provides that an employer terminates the employment of an employee for purposes of s.54 if:

a)         the employer dismisses the employee or otherwise refuses or is unable to continue employing him or her;

b)        the employer constructively dismisses the employee and the employee resigns from his or her employment in response to that within a reasonable period; or

c)         the employer lays the employee off for a period longer than the period of a temporary layoff.

 s. 56(1) of the ESA operates to terminate an employee’s employment in law, so that the employee may claim for common law wrongful dismissal damages. The evident purpose of s. 54 is to prevent employers from avoiding the liabilities that flow from terminating the employment of employees under the guise of placing them on indefinite layoff. The legislature has provided that when a layoff reaches 35 weeks in 52, the employee is terminated.

At common law, an employer has no right to layoff an employee. Absent an agreement to the contrary, a unilateral layoff by an employer is a substantial change in the employer’s employment, and would be a constructive dismissal.

More specifically, a proper reading of the ESA layoff provisions requires the conclusions that:

a.         it is not a termination of employment to temporarily lay off an employee so long as that temporary layoff does not exceed the definition of “temporary” – s.56(4);

b.         an employer may not contract below the Act and therefore may not contract for provisions that allow that temporary layoffs exceed the timeframe set out in s.56 of the Act;

c.         once a layoff exceeds the definition of temporary it is a termination of the employee’s employment pursuant to the Act and pursuant to the common-law, as the Act no longer protects the employer by displacing the common-law jurisprudence and the Act itself also deems a termination; and

d.        the common-law doctrine of constructive dismissal is suspended until such time as the layoff exceeds the definition of  “temporary” in the Act.

TAKEAWAYS

  • Always seek legal advice before deciding to temporarily layoff an employee.
  • Review any relevant contracts or documents pertaining to the employee you are considering laying off before doing so.
  • If there is no contractual right to temporarily layoff the employee, consider speaking with the employee beforehand and document in writing any agreements made.
  • If you are considering being temporarily laid off, or have been laid off by your employer, be aware of the maximum time period a lay off can last under the Employment Standards Act, and what obligations the employer has to you during the layoff itself.

Can an Employer Terminate My Employment Due to a Business Down-Turn Resulting from the Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

In Ontario, it is a well-established principle of employment law, that an employer can terminate an employee at any time without cause for any reason, so long as the reason is not discriminatory or a breach of a human right. Typically, where an employee is terminated without cause, they are not provided with any advanced notice of dismissal. With ongoing concerns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, large contracts and business relationships have been terminated that will inevitable result in a paring down of the workforce without advanced notice.

At law, there is no difference between the right of an employer to provide working notice (i.e., advanced notice of termination) or payment in lieu of notice of termination (i.e., a lump sum severance payout). Accordingly, in many cases businesses will prefer to immediately terminate an employee without cause while providing pay in lieu of notice to avoid the potential morale drain, transfer of confidential information, solicitation of clients or colleagues, or other potential implications of providing working notice to a disgruntled employee.

If you have recently been terminated from your employment in Ontario, it is likely that you have received a termination letter from your employee which outlines the specific severance package. The employer does not need to provide any specific reason for the dismissal, though more recently many employers are terminated employees due to the business realities caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

An employer who terminates an employee without cause is required to make the employee whole during the period of reasonable notice. In other words, at common law, the employee is entitled to continue to receive all the compensation (including commissions, bonuses and stock options) and benefits that he or she would have enjoyed if still actively employed with the employer throughout the notice period.

If you have been terminated from your employment, contrary to what most employment lawyers will tell you, it is generally a very straightforward and simple process to negotiate an enhanced severance package, and where litigation is required – the substance is simple (i.e., it does not require a law degree, let alone a high school diploma to determine how much severance you may be entitled to) – it is merely the unfortunate procedure that lawyers have developed in order to protect their profession and demand unjust and punitive hourly rates that make the process challenging.

If you are contemplating hiring a lawyer, be very careful in understanding the retainer agreement. Under no circumstances, unless for senior executives with potentially 100’s of thousands of dollars of severance pay outstanding, you should not pay more than $2,000.00 as an up-front retainer to a lawyer. Again, these matters are very simple and straightforward. The work is typically done by template and the system is often designed to enrich the lawyer to your benefit. At Goldstein Law, we believe that we put the client first by acting transparently and only taking on cases where there is a real economic benefit to be realized by all parties involved. Thanks for reading.

Notice Periods for Long Service Employees

In order to terminate an employee for cause, an employer must demonstrate that the employee engaged in serious misconduct (i.e., theft, physical harassment or sexual harassment) or that the company placed the employee on a progressive disciplinary plan that sets various performance targets that were not met. In a progressive disciplinary plan, the employee is provided with the opportunity to perform in a satisfactory manner that enables him or her to maintain employed. However, if the plan objectives are not met and the employee continues to engage in poor performance, this may constitute grounds for a just cause termination.

In a recent case called Saikaly v. Akman Construction Ltd.an Office Manager was found to have been wrongfully terminated for cause.  It was found that the employee did not commit any wrongdoing that would rise to the level required for a just cause termination; as such, the employee was entitled to notice of termination or payment in lieu thereof.  In awarding severance pay, the employee received over $150,000.00 plus almost $10,000.00 towards legal costs, representing 24 months of pay.

The employee denied that he ever engaged in any wrongdoing or that he was notified by the employer of the reason for the termination of employment.  The Plaintiff commenced a Court Action for wrongful dismissal and the Defendant did not respond. Later, the Defendant was noted in default, the consequences of which is that the defaulting party is deemed to admit all allegations in the Claim.

As a 60-year old employee with managerial duties, the Court found that it would be especially challenging for this individual to obtain new employment. If you are provided with a severance package or terminated from your employment for cause, it is important to obtain legal advice to ensure that you take the proper steps to obtain the compensation you deserve.

At Goldstein Law Firm, we have expertise in obtaining severance packages for wrongfully dismissed employees.

Employee Rights After Wrongful Dismissal in Ontario

As many people experience, losing a job is never easy.  We are called by employees’ on a weekly basis that are terminated from their employment without cause.  Many people believe that they have been ‘wrongfully dismissed’ from their employment, without understanding what actually constitutes a wrongful dismissal in Ontario.  Under the Employment Standards Act (ESA) in Ontario, an employee that is terminated without cause is entitled to certain minimum obligations, including the right to advanced notice of termination of payment in lieu thereof.

Advanced notice of termination, otherwise referred to as working notice, occurs when an employer advises an employee that their employment will terminate at a specific point in time in the future. During a working notice period, the employee has the obligation to continue working until the notice period expires. It is often a challenge for an employee to stay motivated to work for a company that has terminated them but forced to continue working.

Why Would an Employer Give Working Notice Rather than Payment in lieu Thereof?

For employers, it can make financial sense to provide advanced notice of termination instead of payment in lieu thereof, subject to the employee actually completing their work and assisting the company during the working notice period. Given that the working notice period counts towards an employees severance entitlements when the period expires, the employer may have no more severance obligation to the terminated employee.  Accordingly, the employee’s employment will end with no actual cash outlay required by the employer.

Conversely, when payment in lieu of notice is provided by an employer, a large lump sum or salary continuance payment is typically required, which typically can be expensive for the employer, and in exchange for which the employee’s employment will terminate immediately, and no additional value will be provided to the company.  Employers typically try to balance the uncomfortable nature of working notice with the financial constraint associated with paying severance by way of payment in lieu of notice.

What is a Wrongful Dismissal?

A wrongful dismissal does not relate to the fact the employee was terminated from their employment (unless the employee was wrongfully terminated for cause without a justifiable reason). In fact, an employer can terminate your employment at any time, for any reason, so long as it is not a discriminatory ground protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code (i.e., disability, pregnancy, age, gender, sexual discrimination, etc.).  Rather, a wrongful dismissal occurs when an employer does not satisfy its severance obligations to a terminated employee.  An employer must provide advanced notice of termination or payment in lieu thereof in accordance with the ESA and the common law in Ontario (in certain cases); otherwise, the termination will be deemed a wrongful dismissal.

With respect to ESA entitlements, an employee is entitled to, among other things, termination pay equivalent to one-week per year worked, up to a maximum of 8 weeks termination pay.  In addition, if the employee has worked for a period of 5 or more years for an employer with a payroll over $2.5 million, they will also be entitled to severance pay under the ESA, which is calculated at approximately one-week per year worked.

For example, an employee with 10 years of service for a company that is eligible for both termination pay and severance pay under the ESA, would be entitled to a minimum advanced notice of termination or payout in lieu thereof 18 weeks pay (8 weeks of termination pay and 10 weeks of severance pay).  If the minimum entitlements under the ESA are not offered to an employee that has been terminated without cause, then the termination would be deemed a wrongful dismissal.

Employment Standards Act (ESA) Entitlements Are Minimum Obligations

Terminated employees in Ontario are often entitled to common law or reasonable notice in Ontario, which exceeds those entitlements as designated in the ESA.  By default, an employee is entitled to reasonable notice of termination or payment in lieu thereof, unless an enforceable termination clause is contained in a duly executed employment contract that limits the amount of severance to the statutory (ESA) minimum.  If no such enforceable termination clause is contained in the employment contract, the terminated employee would be entitled to reasonable notice of termination, which can often vastly exceed the minimum obligations under the ESA.

If you have been terminated without cause from your employment in Ontario, it is important that you have received your minimum entitlements. In addition, you ought to consult with an employment lawyer in Ontario to determine whether you are also entitled to reasonable notice of termination or payment in lieu thereof and whether the employer has sufficiently accounted for your rights to a severance package.

If you believe that your former employer has violated your rights, you may have been wrongfully dismissed from your employment. Goldstein Law will be able to analyze your case, including the severance package, employment contract, and other relevant documents, to determine whether you have a case for wrongful dismissal.  Call 647-838-6740 to speak to a lawyer to discuss a potential wrongful dismissal suit.

What Termination Notice Period Are You Entitled to in Ontario?

An employee that has been employed in Ontario for more than three months in an indefinite employment relationship (separate from a fixed-term contract), is entitled to a statutory minimum amount of advanced notice of termination or payment in lieu thereof in accordance with the Employment Standards Act in Ontario, should the employer opt to terminate the employment.

The exception to the general rule is when an employer terminates the employee for cause, in which case the employee is not entitled to any notice of termination. The notice is either provided (1) by way of advanced notice by the employer, during which time the employee continues to work for the company until the end of the notice period; (2) by a payment in lieu of notice equivalent to the value of salary and benefits the employee would have received has they continued working through the notice period; or (3) a combination of advanced notice of termination and payment in lieu thereof.

If payment in lieu of notice is provided to the employee, the payout must be made on the employee’s regular pay date or seven days after the termination, whichever is later.

Employment Standards Act – Notice Periods

The Employment Standards Act in Ontario outlines the minimum termination pay and severance pay obligations of employers. Keep in mind, these are minimum obligations and do not represent an employee’s full legal entitlements on termination of employment. The following is a table outlining the statutory minimums under Ontario’s ESA:

Length of Employment Minimum Notice Required
Under 3 months None
3 months to under 1 year 1 week
1 year to under 3 years 2 weeks
3 years to under 4 years 3 weeks
4 years to under 5 years 4 weeks
5 years to under 6 years 5 weeks
6 years to under 7 years 6 weeks
7 years to under 8 years 7 weeks
8 years or more 8 weeks

The statutorily mandated minimum notice period generally does not constitute a reasonable severance package in accordance with the common law in Ontario; accordingly, if you have only been offered the minimum ESA entitlements, you have a wrongful dismissal claim. Please contact an employment lawyer in Toronto at Goldstein Law Firm for a free consultation to discuss your rights.

Termination for Cause

Just cause terminations have been considered the ‘capital punishment’ of employment law.  The employer bears the evidentiary burden to prove that the alleged misconduct satisfies the high threshold of just cause dismissal. The employer must prove that the act(s) or omission(s) of the employee are so significant that the effect was that the employee repudiated the contract of employment; failure to establish such an effect will preclude a Court from finding that the employment has been terminated for cause.

There are several types of misconduct that may be grounds for dismissal for cause. Examples of common grounds for dismissal, discussed in detail below, include the following:

  • dishonesty (e.g. fraud, theft, breach of trust, deception etc.);
  • workplace harassment and violence;
  • insubordination and insolence; and
  • absenteeism and lateness.

A Court will provide a contextual analysis to determine whether, in the totality of circumstances, the misconduct amounts to just cause. In order to satisfy the Court, employers should institute progressive disciplinary and performance improvement plans to provide a guidepost for improvement for the employee.  If the employee continues to perform incompetently or engage in ongoing misconduct, the employers paper-trial and diligence will assist in reaching the just cause threshold.

If you have been terminated for cause by your employer, please contact Goldstein Employment Law to discuss your potential rights and entitlements.

Constructive Dismissal Cases

A constructive dismissal arises in the employment context when an employer alters a fundamental term of the employment contract, which can be treated as a breach of contract by the employee.  Instead of continuing to work under a new employment arrangement, the employee can choose to resign from their employment following a fundamental change so as not to condone the change.  As a result, the resignation will be viewed as involuntary, and, in effect, a termination.  Importantly, if an employee resigns from their employment, and is unable to successfully argue constructive dismissal, they will not be entitled to a termination package and will be found to have voluntarily resigned from their employment.

An employer found to have constructively dismissed an employee is liable to pay the employee a severance package.

In order to successfully argue that you have a case for constructive dismissal, the change to the employment relationship has to go to the heart or be fundamental to the employment relationship. Employers have the right to institute reasonable changes to the terms of employment (i.e., changing some job duties) in response to the realities of business, without such change being considered a constructive dismissal.

The most common types of constructive dismissal cases are as follows:

  • significantly reducing the employee’s compensation;
  • demoting the employee;
  • requiring the employee to move to a different geographic location;
  • requiring the employee to work in a poisoned work environment (i.e. an environment where the employee faces harassment); or
  • laying off the employee.  An employer does not have an automatic right to lay off a non-unionized employee unless the right to layoff is provided for in the employee’s employment contract.

If you think you have been constructively dismissed from your employment for any of the above reasons, please contact an employment lawyer to determine your best next steps to ensure that you secure a full severance package.