What is “just cause” dismissal?
“Just cause” dismissal means a dismissal where the employer had cause to terminate the employment of an employee.
Why might it be important for an employer to claim that a dismissal was with cause?
In a “without cause” dismissal, the employer will usually have an obligation to provide notice, pay in lieu of notice, or pay for length of service under employment standards legislation. In a “with cause” dismissal, the employer wouldn’t owe the employee any of these things. In effect, an employer can fire an employee with cause on the spot, without owing any money or notice to the employee other than the outstanding wages and benefits that are already owed.
However, it’s usually very difficult for an employer to successfully claim that they have terminated an employee for cause. The general rule is that one instance of misconduct isn’t enough for an employer to terminate an employee for cause. The employer also bears the “onus of proof” to prove to a court that the termination for cause was justified. As well, if an employer has tolerated or “condoned” certain behavior in the past, courts will often not allow an employer to turn around and fire an employee based on that some conduct.
Some examples of misconduct that typically support a just cause dismissal are fraud, theft, breaking company policy, or irreparable harm to reputation. That said, it’s not just these grave offences that can lead to dismissal for cause. An employee can be terminated for cause for a succession of smaller offences if the employer has provided enough warning to the employee about their misconduct or inadequate performance. “Progressive discipline,” a manner in which employers increase the severity of discipline with repeated conduct, is a very common way for employers to help ensure they’ve given employees enough warning about particular misconduct before they fire them.
Employees who work in a position of trust with an employer are held to a higher standard of conduct, and an employer, therefore, can justify a termination without cause more easily than a rank-and-file employee.
If an employee thinks his or her termination of employment is without just cause, the employee can make a claim in court for wrongful dismissal. When assessing the case, a court will look at the situation contextually. Relevant factors considered by the court include the employee’s disciplinary record, his or her length of service, mitigating factors (like disability, economic burden, or addiction), and how the employee responded when confronted with the allegations. If the court finds that no cause for just dismissal has been made out, the employer will owe the employee damages, including damages for “reasonable notice at common law.”
If you’ve been dismissed for cause and believe the termination was unjust, it’s important that you consult an employment lawyer right away.
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