Wrongful Dismissal

The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on legal issues within the Province of Alberta. The purpose of this topic is to inform you of your legal rights and responsibilities. This is not legal advice. If you require legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.

This topic will discuss the rights of an employee when their employment is terminated and they are entitled to more than the minimum notice period in the Province of Alberta. For more information on the minimum notice periods please consult Dial-A-Law topic 436 entitled “Employment Standards for Termination” or call Employment Standards using the province-wide toll-free number 1-877-427-3731. You may also visit the Government of Alberta website at

https://www.alberta.ca/employment-standards.aspx.

You should seek legal advice if you think that you have been wrongfully dismissed from your job, as this can be a very complicated area of the law. This general information only applies to non-unionized employees who are employed by a provincial jurisdiction employer. This information does not apply to unionized employees who are governed by a collective agreement or employees working for federal jurisdiction employers such as banks, airlines or railways.

Most employees who are terminated without cause are entitled to “reasonable notice” of their termination. If your employer does not provide you with sufficient working notice, then they must provide you with pay in lieu of notice. If you have a written employment contract, the contract may limit the amount that will be paid to you when your employment is terminated. The Alberta Employment Standards Code provides for minimum notice periods depending on how long you have been employed. Your employer cannot provide less than the minimum notice period. However, it is possible that you are entitled to more than the minimum notice period.

If you are not satisfied with the length of the notice provided or the amount of severance offered by your employer, you may decide to negotiate a greater amount of severance or sue your employer for wrongful dismissal damages. The case law determining what is reasonable notice for the termination of employment is extensive and complex, and is determined by many factors, including:

  • your age;
  • your job;
  • your length of service;
  • amount compensation; and
  • the likelihood that you will secure alternative employment.

If your employer has failed to pay you the minimum termination pay specified by the Alberta Employment Standards Code, then you may file a complaint with Employment Standards. If you think that you are entitled to more notice than what is provided in the Alberta Employment Standards Code because of the factors that have been mentioned, then you should consult with a lawyer to bring your action in the Courts.

If you believe that you have been wrongfully dismissed, you have a duty to take all reasonable steps to mitigate your damages by searching for alternative employment. If you are offered a comparable position during the reasonable notice period, you may be obligated to accept it. If you obtain other employment, any amounts earned from your new employment during the reasonable notice period may be deducted from any damages owed by your former employer.

If your employer had ‘just cause’ to terminate your employment, you will not be entitled to any notice or payment in lieu of notice or termination pay. Just cause for termination may include incompetence, dishonesty, insubordination or refusing to carry out reasonable tasks. Your entire employment record with your employer’s business may be presented as evidence against you. It is up to the Court to decide whether the misconduct was enough to justify the dismissal. The Court may also consider whether the employer had given you an opportunity to change your ways or improve your performance. A single incident of misconduct may not be enough to justify dismissing you for just cause.

If you believe that your employer made your working environment so unbearable that you were forced to resign, you may claim that you were “constructively dismissed.” Constructive dismissal may include situations where your employer significantly reduces your salary, completely changes your job responsibilities, insists that you change job locations, allows you to experience sexual harassment or prevents you from carrying out your duties. This is another complex area of law and you should contact a lawyer for legal advice before you quit your job and allege constructive dismissal. Employers are generally able to alter some terms and working conditions unilaterally and a Court may find that certain changes made by the employer in the workplace do not amount to constructive dismissal. Furthermore, the Court may find that you accepted the change or condoned the change over time.

Dial-A-Law is a Calgary Legal Guidance public service project funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.