Layoffs in a Unionized Workplace

There has been a massive amount of information circulating online about layoffs, much of it focused exclusively on non-union employees and their rights under the Employment Standards Act. Unionized businesses are not immune to slowdowns in our current economic crisis, with labour cost reduction measures announced daily.

What are the rules about layoffs of unionized employees? Here are some things to keep in mind.

1. Layoff Rights Determined by the Collective Agreement

If the employer has the right to lay off employees due to a lack of work, the procedures will be outlined in the Collective Agreement (CA). Have a look at your CA and see if it contains layoff provisions. Even if you don’t see a section in the Table of Contents called “Layoffs” keep reading reading through the CA. You might find information on layoffs in a section on “Seniority”, “Hours of Work (Reduction)”, or “Displacement”.

2. Notice Provisions

The notice period required will likely be outlined in the layoff provisions of the CA. Where no notice is specified, we recommend that the employer and union discuss the situation and work collaboratively in rolling out layoffs in a manner that will minimize the negative impact on the business and workers.

3. Bumping Rights

Normally, the CA will specify that layoffs must take place in order of seniority (last hired—first laid off) in each job classification. However, some CAs allow more senior members to “bump” more junior members from other job classifications if the employee has the ability to perform the job, or to perform the job of the more junior person with minimal (specified) training. Employees who are bumped can then in turn bump others with less seniority, and so on. These situations can become quite complicated with a larger unionized workforce with many job classifications, and this is another reason for the employer and the union to work closely together to try to rollout the desired layoffs without the need for grievances.

4. Recall Rights

Some CAs may allow employees to choose severance if they are laid off and do not want to be recalled to their job. Other CAs trade off severance payments for recall rights (the right to return to their job when the work returns). Recall rights are an alternative to severance pay. Recall rights are usually managed in order of seniority, just like the layoffs—the person with the most seniority is the first recalled when there is enough work. Recall rights will usually last a specific period of time as specified in the CA.

5. Union-Management Communications are Critical

In difficult situations where layoffs are necessary, it is very important to maintain open communication between union and management ensure that both parties have a common understanding of how things will proceed pursuant to the language in the CA. Since layoffs are uncommon in many unionized workplaces, the language in the CA may never have been used. Good communication can help everyone focus on recovery efforts to get the business back to full capacity and full employment. If the union and management are not on the same page, grievances regarding the process distract from these recovery efforts.

We act for both businesses and unions and can help navigate the process of layoffs of unionized workers. If you would like a lawyer to review your CA, or to assist you in working together on a plan for layoffs of unionized workers, we can help.

If you are a unionized worker, we encourage you to contact your union representative as a first step if you have questions about layoffs.


This blog is not intended to serve as legal advice, and only provides general information. Every situation must be considered on its own facts.

Need legal advice? Contact us by phone at 604 535-7063 or email [email protected].

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