Losing Your Job
Losing your job
The information below tells you about your rights if you lose your job. Some reasons why you might lose your job are:
- lack of work
- job cuts
- business failure
- your job performance.
Whatever the reason, the law provides some basic protections and they are outlined below.
Laws which protect you:Statutes
A statute (also called an Act) is a written law passed by the federal parliament or a provincial
The Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code
protects most employees in Nova Scotia. It is enforced
by the Labour Standards Division
of the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education.
The Canada Labour Code
protects employees in federally regulated industries such as banks and
telephone companies. It is enforced by the Labour Program
of the Department of Human
Resources and Skills Development Canada.
The Nova Scotia
and Canadian Human Rights Acts
provide protection against job-related
discrimination. They are enforced by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission
Canadian Human Rights Commission
The common law applies to all non-unionized employees and, in some cases, may provide greater
protection than the labour codes.
Common law (also called case law) includes rules made by judges before there was statute law
or legislation and rulings by judges as to what the statutes mean.
A third source, collective
agreements, protects the rights of unionized employees.
The information here deals with the rights of non-unionized employees.
It provides general information only. If you have a specific problem, you should talk with a
lawyer or the Department of Labour and Advanced EducationSome legal terms used here
Are you an employee?
- Consecutive months of continuous service means an unbroken period of employment. For
example, you have worked for your employer from June 1st 2008 to May 31st 2009. It would be
12 months continuous employment.
If you worked for your employer from June to December and then from February to May it may
still be treated as continuous employment in some circumstances.
Under the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code, a layoff of less than one year does not break the
period of continuous employment. Breaks for reasons other than layoff may still be continuous
periods of employment if the break is less than 13 weeks.
- Dismissal is a general term for job termination by an employer. It includes firing, layoff,
suspension, lockout, plant shutdown, etc.
However, under the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code there are separate definitions for
discharge, layoff and suspension. The differences can be important in determining your rights.
- Reasonable notice refers to the amount of notice that your employer should give you if you
are being dismissed.
- Just cause for dismissal refers to a situation under the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code
and common law where your employer can fire you without notice. It arises when you behave in
such a way that you are considered to have broken your employment relationship and have given
your employer just cause for dismissing you without notice.
The Canada Labour Code does not define just cause. It does have provisions for dealing with
an employees complaint about dismissal.
- Unjust dismissal or wrongful dismissal are legal terms for a situation where your employer
fires you without just cause.
The labour codes apply to employees who have lost their jobs. Not everyone who works for
someone is an employee. People who are self-employed and work for others as independent
contractors do not have the same protections as employees.
The distinction between an employee and an independent contractor is not always clear. If you
control your own work and how it is to be done, use your own tools and materials, and are solely
responsible for your own profit and loss, you are most likely an independent contractor.
If you are not sure if you are an employee, you should contact the Labour Standards Division or
get the advice of a lawyer.
The federal and provincial labour laws set out minimum requirements. Your employment contract
may exceed those minimums and may deal with matters such as notice periods. If you are a
unionized employee, the collective agreement between the union and the employer will usually
cover such issues as dismissal, notice periods and layoffs.
Q - What are some ways I can lose my job?
Losing a job can come about in many ways. You could be fired, laid-off, locked out or your
employers business might fail. As far as the law is concerned, any of these may be a dismissal,
and you may be entitled to reasonable notice or pay instead of notice. Even if your employer goes
out of business, you have a right to notice of dismissal in many cases.
What your rights are may depend on the reasons you lost your job. It is therefore important to
talk with a lawyer or to a provincial or federal labour representative about your situation.
There are circumstances when an employer may not have to give reasonable notice. One example
is an unforeseen event beyond the employers control, such as a fire. Your employer must pay the
wages and benefits you earned up to the date of dismissal.
In some circumstances, your employer may not have to give you notice if the business closes
down because it is bankrupt (that is, the business cannot pay its creditors). Usually this only
applies if the creditors force the business to close.
Q - What are my rights if I lose my job?
Dismissal with notice
Generally, the law requires your employer to tell you in advance if you are going to be dismissed
from your job. This gives you time to prepare for your dismissal and to look for another job. In
legal terms this is known as reasonable notice of dismissal.
In some circumstances your employer does not have to give you reasonable notice of dismissal.
This is discussed later on in this document under Dismissal without notice
Q - How much notice should I get?
How much notice you should get will depend upon the circumstances of your employment and on
whether you complain to Labour Standards, or Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, or sue
your employer in court.
If you complain to the provincial or federal department, you may get a minimum notice period of
one to 16 weeks. The length of notice depends on how long you have worked for your employer
and the number of other employees dismissed along with you.
If you decide to sue your employer in court for wrongful dismissal, you may get longer notice
because the courts generally provide longer notice periods than the minimum provided by the
labour codes. However, a lawsuit can be expensive, may take a long time, and may cost more
than you stand to win.
Pay instead of notice
In all cases, instead of giving you notice, your employer can pay you an amount equal to the
wages and benefits you would have earned during the proper notice period. This is known as pay
in lieu of notice and is usually preferable because it frees you to look for another job instead of
working out your notice period.
Notice under the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code
Notice periods apply to most non-union workers in Nova Scotia.
The following are the minimum notice periods required:
- one weeks notice if you were employed for more than three months but less than two
- two weeks notice if you were employed for two years or more but less than five years;
- four weeks notice if you were employed for five years or more but less than 10 years;
- eight weeks notice if you were employed for 10 years or more.
Where 10 or more employees are dismissed within a four week period, the employer must give
them between eight and 16 weeks notice.
The length of notice depends upon the number of workers dismissed and the reason for dismissal.
If you have worked for your employer for 10 or more years, you have additional protection under
the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code. If there is no just cause for dismissal, you can ask for
your job back. To do this you should ask for reinstatement through the Labour Standards
If you have worked for your employer for less than three months you are not entitled to the notice
provisions under the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code.
Your employer always has a right to give you pay instead of notice. For example, if you are
entitled to two weeks notice, your employer can give you two weeks pay instead.
Notice under the Canada Labour Code
These notice periods apply to workers in federally regulated industries. Notice must be in writing.
The following are the minimum notice periods required:
- two weeks notice of dismissal, or two weeks pay instead of notice for all employees
with more than three consecutive months of continuous employment;
- 16 weeks notice where 50 or more employees are dismissed from the same industrial
establishment within a four week period.
In addition, if you have at least 12 consecutive months of continuous service and you are
dismissed without cause, you are entitled to either:
- a minimum of five days pay, or
- two days pay at the regular rate for each completed year of employment, whichever is
Also, if you are dismissed, you can file a complaint of wrongful dismissal with the Department of
Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. You must:
- have 12 consecutive months of continuous employment;
- not have been laid off;
- file the complaint in writing within 90 days of dismissal.
The Department will try to negotiate a settlement between you and your employer. If you are not
satisfied with a proposed settlement, you can ask the Department to appoint an adjudicator to
decide the issue. The adjudicator may order reinstatement where appropriate or award
compensation for lost wages.
Notice under the common law
There are no definite periods of notice under common law. All that is required of an employer is
reasonable notice, unless there is just cause for dismissal without notice. The purpose of
reasonable notice is to provide you with a fair opportunity to find another job.
The notice periods granted by the courts under common law are often longer than those required
by statute. Each case depends on its facts. Some of the factors usually considered are:
- your level or position in the organization;
- your length of service;
- your age and your ability to find comparable employment;
- the nature of the industry you work in and industry custom with regard to dismissal and
- the circumstances surrounding your hiring especially if you were persuaded to leave;
- another secure position.
Q - Do all employees have the same rights?
No. Both the provincial and federal labour codes contain a number of exemptions and exceptions
that might mean your case is not covered by the general rules. Therefore, it is important that you
talk to a lawyer, the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Division or Human Resources and Skills Development
Canada about your case.
Some employees may be dismissed without just cause and without proper notice because they are
not covered by the termination provisions of the labour codes. An example is construction
workers. If you are not covered by the labour codes, you may still use the courts to enforce your
rights by suing your employer.
Probationary employees have less protection than permanent employees, although they may be
entitled to some notice of dismissal.
Some employees are hired for a definite term and know at the time they are hired when their job
will end. An example would be a person hired on a government grant. Under the Nova Scotia
Labour Standards Code, if you are hired for a definite term of less than 12 months, you are not
entitled to notice of dismissal when your term of employment is finished. If you are hired for a
definite term of more than 12 months, the notice provisions of the Nova Scotia Labour Standards
Under the Canada Labour Code, if you have worked for an employer for three consecutive
months, you should get at least two weeks written notice of dismissal or two weeks pay instead
Under common law, if your employer dismisses you before your term is complete, you may be
entitled to full payment for the unexpired portion of the term, provided you have performed your
work satisfactorily. You should get legal advice on your situation.
Unionized employees are treated differently than non-unionized employees. Unionized
employees must proceed through the grievance and arbitration procedures set out in their
Q - Dismissal without notice
Your employer may be justified in dismissing you without notice if:
- you repeatedly or in some serious way failed to do your job properly, or
- you have acted in a way that makes it clear to your employer that you no longer wish to
work for the company.
Whether your employer is justified in firing you without notice depends upon the circumstances
leading up to and surrounding your dismissal. Many factors may be relevant, but they must
amount to conduct by you which is inconsistent with the fulfilment of the conditions of your job.
The Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code requires wilful misconduct or disobedience or neglect
of duty. In effect, you must, by your conduct, say to your employer, I am going to break the
terms of my employment.
The law refers to this as just cause for dismissal without notice and it usually arises in one of
- You may do something so bad that it ends the employment relationship immediately.
This includes theft, being drunk on the job, destruction of property, complete disregard
for the safety of others, wilful disobedience, insolence and insubordination.
- There may be a series of smaller incidents, none of which by themselves would be reason
to dismiss you without notice, but which, when taken together, show that you are
unwilling or unable to fulfill your responsibilities. Your employer is generally expected
to try to fix the problem in other ways before dismissing you without notice. This
includes giving you warnings, reprimands, and suspensions in a progressive series of
steps up to dismissal.
Q - Can I be fired without notice if my employer sells the business?
No. Sale or shut down of a business is not usually reason to dismiss you without notice. Other
situations where you usually should not be dismissed without notice are:
- lack of work or job redundancy due to reorganization or some other action within your
- personality conflict, unless it is accompanied by misconduct;
- looking for other work;
- garnishment of your wages.
Q - What if I become pregnant?
Your employer may require you to take a leave of absence if you cannot reasonably perform your
duties because of pregnancy. Apart from this, after one years employment you are entitled to 17
weeks unpaid pregnancy leave under the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code. An employer does
not have to pay you during pregnancy leave unless it is company policy or part of your contract.
Employment Insurance usually provides income during the pregnancy-leave period.
In addition, both parents can take up to 17 weeks unpaid parental leave following the birth or
adoption of a child.
Under the Canada Labour Code, after six consecutive months of continuous employment, an
employee who is pregnant is entitled to 17 weeks unpaid leave. It also allows a further 24 weeks
unpaid leave to either parent. This is also available in the case of adoption.
There is a provision in the Employment Insurance Act to pay parental benefits. These benefits are
payable to natural or adoptive parents if they meet entitlement conditions. Benefits are usually for
10 weeks but can be extended to 15 weeks in special circumstances.
There is also a plan to allow an employer to top-up (add to) Employment Insurance benefits to
bring the amount closer to the employees usual take-home pay.
You must be allowed to resume work at the end of your leave without loss of seniority or benefits
that you earned up to the date you took pregnancy leave. If you are dismissed or prevented from
returning to work because of pregnancy, you should contact the Labour Standards Division or
Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.
Q - Can I be fired if I am injured at work and cannot work?
The Workers Compensation Act
provides some protection to injured workers who have been
employed for 12 consecutive months. The employer is required to offer employment to injured
workers unless the employer can show that it would cause extreme hardship.
Q - Can I refuse to do unsafe work?
The provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act
provides some protection to an employee
- is fired for refusing to do unsafe work;
- makes a complaint under the Act;
- is on a health and safety committee; or
- for other matters covered by the Act.
A non-unionized worker can make a complaint to the Occupational Health and Safety Division,
Nova Scotia Labour Standards within 30 days of being dismissed.
Federal occupational health and safety laws are set out in Part II of the Canada Labour Code.
Complaints about safety should be made as soon as possible to Human Resources and Skills Development
Q - Can I be fired because of my colour, sex or age?
Under the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code you cannot be dismissed from your job, with or
without notice, for any reason that is contrary to the Human Rights Act
. This means that you
cannot be fired because of your race, religion, creed, colour, ethnic or national origin, sex, sexual
orientation, age, physical or mental disability or marital status.
Discrimination on the basis of sex is only allowed if there is a bona fide (genuine) occupational
qualification based on sex. For example, your employer might employ only women to be
attendants in a female change room.
Discrimination on the basis of physical disability is only allowed if the disability affects the
ability to properly perform the particular job. For example, if you are visually impaired you may
not qualify as a driving instructor.
Employees in federally regulated industries have protection under the Canada Labour Code and
the Canadian Human Rights Act
If you are discriminated against, you should contact either the Nova Scotia
Q - Does my employer have to give a reason for firing me?
Under the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code, employers usually do not have to give a reason
for firing someone. They can usually dismiss an employee at any time as long as proper notice is
given. There are exceptions. For example, if you have worked for an employer for 10 or more
years, your employer cannot fire you without just cause. Your employer cannot dismiss you for
reasons that are contrary to human rights legislation. Your employer cannot dismiss you because
you make a complaint under the Occupational Health and Safety Act or for being on a health and
Under the Canada Labour Code, if you have been employed for 12 consecutive months, you can
write to your employer asking for reasons for your dismissal in writing. The employer must reply
within 15 days of your request. If you feel that you were wrongfully dismissed, you can make a
complaint to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.
Q - What can I claim if I am wrongfully dismissed?
Under the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code you can claim your pay, including vacation pay,
for the required notice period. Under the Canada Labour Code you can claim two weeks notice
or pay instead of notice. Under both codes you may claim reinstatement in some circumstances.
Under the common law you can claim what you would have received in wages and benefits
during the proper notice period. Benefits may include bonuses, overtime, travel allowances, club
memberships and contributions to health and insurance plans. You can also claim moving
expenses and expenses incurred in finding another job, such as travel expenses, cost of resumés
and telephone calls.
Compensation for mental distress caused by the act of dismissal is sometimes awarded, although
it is rare. Also, claims for loss of reputation or for educational or retraining costs are only
accepted in exceptional circumstances. You should talk with a lawyer about your situation.
An employee who is claiming unjust dismissal is expected to mitigate damages. This means that
you have an obligation to look for suitable alternative employment. Any income that you earn or
should have earned may be deducted from the compensation owed you by your employer.
Q - How do I make my claim?
If you have not received proper notice of your dismissal from your employer you may complain
to the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Division
or Human Resources and Skills Development Canada
, or you
may sue your employer in court for wrongful dismissal.
If you decide to sue your employer in court, you should get legal advice on your situation.
If you complain to the Labour Standards Division
, you must make the complaint within six
months of dismissal. Complaints about unfair dismissal under the Canada Labour Code must be
made within 90 days.
In either case your complaint will be investigated and an order for notice or
pay instead of notice may then be made, or your claim may be dismissed. In addition there may
be a formal hearing before a decision is made. If either you or the employer disagree with the
decision, you can appeal. An officer of the Labour Standards Division
or Human Resources
will explain how you make a claim and how you appeal.
If you complain under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, you must do so in writing and
within 30 days of dismissal.
If you believe that you were dismissed because of discrimination, you can contact the Nova
Scotia Human Rights Commission or the Canadian Human Rights Commission. They have
investigative and hearing procedures similar to the Labour Standards Division and Human
Resources and Skills Development Canada. Their human rights officers will also advise you of how to
proceed with your complaint.
If you are not satisfied with the remedies provided by the labour codes, you may want to sue your
employer in court for wrongful dismissal. However, going to court is an expensive and time consuming process. Unless you are a senior and
well-paid employee of long service, the amount you stand to win in court may be too little to justify the costs and time involved. You should
talk with a lawyer before you decide what to do.
Q - What if I quit my job?
Generally, if you quit your job you will not be entitled to notice or pay instead of notice. Under
the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code, if you have worked for more than three months you
must give your employer advance written notice of your intention to quit. You must give one or
two weeks notice depending upon your length of service.
Many types of operations are exempt from the requirement that an employee give notice. If you
are unsure, you can check with the Labour Standards Division
You may not have to give notice if your employer forces you to quit. This is known as
Examples are if your employer demotes you, reduces your wages or
changes your job requirements without your consent and without proper notice. In such
situations, you may be justified in resigning from your job and demanding pay instead of notice.
Other possible examples of constructive dismissal include:
- forced transfer;
- abusive treatment;
- reduced work week;
- unpaid overtime;
- compulsory leave of absence;
- short-term lay-offs, where this has not been agreed to between you and your employer.
You may not have to give notice if your employer has broken the terms and conditions of
employment. However, some employees who quit without notice have been ordered by the courts
to compensate the employer. You should talk to a lawyer or a Labour Standards Officer
you quit without giving notice.
Under the Canada Labour Code an employee does not have to give notice to quit.
Q - Can I be fired if my employer suspects me of stealing?
The Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code does not specifically say that you can be fired for
stealing. However, stealing would likely give your employer cause for firing you without notice.
If there is proof that you stole from your employer, there may be just cause for firing you without
notice. Problems usually arise where your employer has no proof that you stole but suspects you.
If you are dismissed without notice in these circumstances, you can complain to the Labour
Under the Canada Labour Code, if you feel that the dismissal was unfair, you can make a
complaint to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada
. You must have been in the job for at least
12 consecutive months.
Q - What can I do if my employer gives me bad references?
The law does not require your employer to give you a reference. If your employer gives you a
reference, it does not have to be a good one. For example, employers can tell another employer
that they would not employ you again.
Instead of asking your employer for a reference, you may wish to ask someone else such as your
supervisor or the personnel manager.
You may be able to sue your employer if anything is said about you that is not true and which
damages your reputation and affects your ability to get another job. Suing can be a long and
expensive process. You should talk with a lawyer about your situation.
Q - Where can I get more information?
return to top of page