As an employment lawyer, one of the most common questions I get from employers is “How do I fire someone properly?” Proactive work can save a lot of stress and expense, compared to a “fire now, ask questions later” approach. Here are 5 things to think about when terminating an employee.   

1. With or without cause? 

If you terminate with cause, the employee could be terminated effective immediately and would not be entitled to any severance. However, proving that you have cause to terminate an employee is a high bar to meet. “Cause” means that an employee has engaged in some type of serious misconduct that would justify dismissal without further warnings or other types of progressive discipline. Most terminations are without cause and advance notice and/or severance pay is required. 

 2. Start with the employment contract

When an employee is fired without cause, calculating how much severance pay is owed can be straightforward if there is a valid and enforceable termination clause in their employment contract. Most employees are governed by the BC Employment Standards Act (ESA), which outlines the basic standards of compensation and conditions of employment—it sets the minimums. If the amount of pay or notice in the contract falls below the minimum termination notice required by the ESA, the termination clause is invalid, and an employee could be entitled to severance under the “common law”.  

3. Consider human rights

The BC Human Rights Code helps protect people from discrimination in the workplace. In plain language, discrimination means treating someone badly or denying them a benefit based on a personal characteristic that is protected by the Code. Employees may file a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal if they believe they have been discriminated against by their employer. As such, you cannot fire your employee on the basis of any protected human rights ground. If the employee can prove that their protected characteristic, such as age, was a factor in the adverse impact, for example the termination of their employment, you could be found to have discriminated against your employee. Since the remedy for a human rights claim can be substantial and includes wage loss and injury to dignity damages, it’s important that you do not terminate an employee based in any part on their protected personal characteristics. Protected personal characteristics for employment can be found here: http://www.bchrt.bc.ca/human-rights-duties/characteristics.htm. 

 4. Write it up

An employer must be as clear and concise as possible when communicating a termination of employment. In advance of the termination meeting, prepare a termination letter to give to the employee at the meeting. The letter should include a specific date of termination, and in some cases, could include a severance offer in exchange for a Full and Final Release from the employee. Remember, however, that you cannot ask an employee to sign a Release in order for them to receive their basic minimum entitlements under the ESA. Termination letters should be prepared meticulously with careful reference to the employee’s contract and the requirements of the ESA. Even innocent mistakes can be costly.  

5. Respectful delivery

You may want to start the termination meeting by acknowledging that this was a difficult decision to make for the company. You are not obligated to explain or give reasons for the termination. Ideally, you should go over the contents of the termination letter as briefly as possible. If possible, conduct the termination meeting with another employee present, preferably an office manager or supervisor, so that you have a witness—especially if it’s expected to be a difficult meeting. If you’ve presented the employee with a severance offer and Release, they should be given adequate time to review the information and be provided with an opportunity to seek legal advice. 


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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