How you terminate depends on the terms of your employment contract and may include a number of factors related to Human Rights and Workers’ Compensation.  Carry out terminations with care, and seek legal advice in advance.  Your employees may be your biggest asset, but an error in the course of termination can turn them into your biggest liability.  

Terminate employees with sensitivity and care

Canada’s top judge famously referred to work as “one of the most fundamental aspects in a person’s life, providing the individual with a means of financial support and as importantly a contributory role in society; a person’s employment is an essential component of his or her sense of identity, self-worth and emotional well-being.”  With statements like this from the Supreme Court of Canada, it’s no surprise that judges tend to be sympathetic toward wrongfully dismissed employees.  This means you need to take special care when terminating employment.

To complicate matters, terminations are legally technical and involve a number of areas of law, including the express and implied terms of the employment contract, employment law generally, tort law including defamation and loss of opportunity, the law related to aggravated and punitive damages in the employment context, the Human Rights Code, employment-related statutes and regulations, Workers’ Compensation regulations, pension law, insurance law, and more.

Where a termination is executed in “bad faith”, for example while the employee is especially vulnerable, or in a way that damages their reputation or causes mental distress, judges may award aggravated or even punitive damages.  Terminations should be carried out with sensitivity and care.  Not only does this avoid harsh legal penalties, but in an age when employees are likely to bring their grievances into the public eye through social media, acting graciously is good for your company’s reputation.

Dismissal Guidelines

Before conducting any termination, we recommend you give some consideration to the reasons the employee needs to go.  If your reasons for dismissing could be related to the person’s age, physical or mental disability, family status, or any other “protected characteristic” in the BC Human Rights Code, you should speak with a lawyer first.

You’ll need to determine how much severance pay to give.  Googling “severance pay BC” is not helpful here.  You’re likely to arrive at the BC Employment Standards website, which tells you how much you owe under the BC Employment Standards Act, but totally ignores your contractual and common law obligations.  Providing only the statutory minimum notice, without the contractual right to do so, will often trigger legal action from your employee seeking damages for wrongful dismissal.

If there is an employment contract that governs termination notice, you should refer to that as a starting point – but we recommend seeking legal advice to ensure that the contract is enforceable.  If there is no written contract with termination provisions, or if you are not sure whether your provisions are enforceable, you should always contact an employment lawyer before carrying out the termination.  At EmployRight we can tell you what you owe to your employee contractually and at common law, help you prepare the termination paperwork, and help you minimize any risks related to the termination and negotiate for a Release.

Do you need a Release?

A Release is basically an employee’s contract not to sue you for employment-related damages.  You cannot make the employee sign a Release in order to receive statutory minimum notice, and insisting on one can attract aggravated damages.  Where there is no contract of employment, or where there may be some other source of liability such as discrimination or bullying and harassment, you should plan on offering extra severance pay in return for the employee’s signature on a Release.  Sometimes no Release is needed, but this is a decision that should be made with the advice of your employment lawyer.  EmployRight can help you determine whether you need a Release, draft it for a reasonable fixed fee, and help you negotiate with your employee to get it signed.

You can accidentally dismiss someone

Constructive dismissal is a vibrant source of work for employment lawyers.  A constructive dismissal happens when the employer makes fundamental changes to essential terms of the employment contract.  For example, pay is always a fundamental term.  You may reduce an employee’s pay by directly cutting their salary or by eliminating an essential bonus structure, reducing commissions, shrinking a sales territory, or reducing hours or days of work.  Changes to the employee’s location, duties,  hierarchical status, or benefits can also be fundamental.  If the employee doesn’t agree to the changes, you may be constructively dismissing them by breaching the employment contract.  A constructively dismissed employee is entitled to the same amount of damages as one who is dismissed outright.  If you’re considering making changes to the terms of a worker’s employment, you should seek legal advice in advance to avoid the risk of liability for wrongful dismissal.


  • A lawful termination is one that is not discriminatory and that adheres to the terms of the employment contract.
  • Carry out terminations with sensitivity to avoid penalties for “bad faith dismissal”.
  • Avoid wrongful dismissal lawsuits by proactively seeking legal advice before terminating an employee.
  • Avoid constructively dismissing employees by seeking legal advice prior to changing important terms of the employment like pay, location, duties, and status.

I need help lawfully terminating an employee.