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Employment Law: Understanding Just Cause

Employment agreement contractLosing your job is tough, especially when you are handed a termination notice with no prospect of being called back to work.  Getting fired, dismissed, or let go, among several other terms, is defined as the Termination of Employment by the Employment Standards Act.  Case law in Ontario requires employers to provide a period of reasonable notice to employees that are dismissed without just cause.  However, if the employer has determined they have just cause, they are within their rights to terminate employment immediately.

What classifies as just cause under Ontario law?  There are a range of offenses, including but not limited to the following:

Insubordination – Insubordination is an employee’s lack of regard or compliance for their responsibilities or workplace policies.  It may include challenging authority or creating a difficult work environment for others.  An employee terminated for insubordinate behaviour may challenge their employer’s decision based on their prior track record or an explanation of unfair treatment.

Absenteeism – Most workplaces have a stated attendance policy that includes details regarding sick time and vacation days.  However, repeated absenteeism without notifying the employer is usually just cause for termination.  Communication is key in this scenario as an employee.  Some people require more time off due to their health or family situation, but the employee has an obligation to keep their employer informed whenever their attendance is expected.

Incompetence – Incompetence is one of the more challenging factors by which to terminate employment.  In this case, the onus is placed on the employer to provide specific scenarios where the employee failed to reach the required workplace standard, beyond their probationary period, despite receiving adequate training to perform the job.

Addiction and Substance Abuse – Employment lawyers will argue that in most cases, an employee cannot be terminated for having an addiction, as this is a violation of the Human Right’s Code.  However, if someone shows up to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and endangers the lives of others, the employer may have just cause for immediate termination.  In other cases, such as an office worker who has one too many drinks at lunch doesn’t necessarily pose a risk.  There have been a range of outcomes in employment law pertaining to this type of case.  In some incidences, the employer was obligated to provide costly addiction treatment options, while in other causes the employer was able to legally defend their just cause for the termination.

Dishonesty – A case of dishonestly might include theft, fraud or other unethical behavior.  If the employer can prove their case, it’s difficult for a terminated employee to defend their position.  Dishonesty can take place within the terms of the employment contact, or may involve misrepresentation prior to being hired.  Lying about experience or educational qualifications may result in termination if the employer feels the employee is unqualified for the position and was hired under false pretenses.

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