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Can I fire an employee for no reason? Your termination questions answered

Updated: Jun 1, 2022

To put it simply, firing someone can be a tricky business indeed. Employee termination laws have so many shades of grey they could put any paint store to shame. And unfortunately, once you become a manager, there’s no ‘how to terminate an employee legally’ book that appears at your door. It’s up to you to learn the laws and regulations involved in employee terminations to ensure you are following your province’s rules.

So, although it may seem tempting to fire someone for obnoxiously loud gum-chewing, it’s a little more complicated than that. To ensure that you and your business don’t make a detrimental mistake, let’s review the specifics regarding how to fire an employee.

Is it legal to fire an employee for no reason?

Remember those grey areas we mentioned? Well, this is one of the biggies. In Ontario, you can fire someone ‘without a cause’ but that does not directly translate to being for ‘no reason’. At the root of it, being fired ‘without a cause’ means that the employee is being terminated for reasons other than a serious misconduct such as theft or fraud.

So, though technically you cannot fire someone for no reason, if you fire an employee ‘without a cause’, you are not required to provide the employee with the specific details of their termination.

On what grounds can you fire an employee?

In Ontario, you can fire an employee for any reason except those that go against the following laws and regulations.

1. An employee cannot be fired based on the protected grounds outlined in the Ontario Human Rights Code. These protected reasons include:

  • Citizenship

  • Age

  • Ancestry, colour, race

  • Ethnic origin/place of origin

  • Creed

  • Disability

  • Family status/marital status

  • Gender identity or expression

  • Sex or sexual orientation

  • Record of offences

  • Receipt of public assistance in housing

2. An employee cannot be terminated for exercising their rights under the Employment Standards Act or the Occupational Health and Safety Act. For example, you cannot fire an employee for refusing work that they deem as unsafe.

With all that said, some acceptable reasons for employee termination include serious misconducts such as harassment, use of illegal drugs at work, or violent behaviour. Other less serious ‘without a cause’ reasons that are acceptable for termination include the employer’s finances, poor work performance or perhaps, a global pandemic.

**It is important to note that these laws and regulations vary based on province. If your company operates outside of Canada, it is your responsibility to investigate how to terminate an employee legally in all the places you are doing business.

How do you legally terminate an employee?

According to the ESA, employers are required to provide workers who have been employed for at least three months with either a written notice of termination, termination pay or a combination of both.

The amount of notice that an employee is entitled to depends on their period of employment. For example, if an employee has worked at your company for 3 years, they are required to receive 3 weeks’ notice. To learn more about how to fire an employee using the correct time frame, visit the ESA guide website.

If an employee does not receive a written notice within the timeframe outlined by the ESA, they must be given termination pay in lieu of the notice. Termination pay should equal the regular wages for each work week that the employee would have been entitled to during the written notice period.

How can I make the transition easier for them?

Termination isn’t fun for anyone, least of all the employee being fired. There are various ways that you, as the employer, can ease the individual through the transition.

We provide various career transition specialists and outplacement services that support clients and help them get back out into the professional world with confidence. With the right guidance, both parties can correct their mistakes and move on amicably towards a more hopeful future.

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