The relationship between employers and employees in Alberta is governed by a combination of common law principles, statutory rules, and, where applicable, collective agreements or other types of contracts. When the employment relationship ends, it can occur in several ways including termination with or without cause, constructive dismissal, wrongful dismissal, and temporary layoff. These concepts are critical for both employers and employees to understand, as they carry with them unique rights, obligations, and potential remedies.
Termination without cause in Alberta occurs when an employee is dismissed from their job for reasons that do not relate to their conduct or performance. Such reasons may include company-wide layoffs due to financial challenges, changes in the business’s structure, or redundancy in roles. This type of termination is perfectly legal, provided that the employer complies with the legal requirements for notice or pay in lieu of notice, as stipulated in the Alberta Employment Standards Code.
In Alberta, the amount of notice an employee is entitled to receive is based on their length of employment. For instance, if an employee has been employed for more than 3 months but less than 2 years, they should receive at least one week’s notice. If employed for more than 2 years, they should receive a week’s notice for each year of employment, up to a maximum of 8 weeks.
In contrast, termination with cause in Alberta, also known as dismissal for just cause, happens when an employee is dismissed due to serious misconduct or performance issues. Examples might include theft, fraud, assault, or other significant misconduct. In such situations, employers are not required to provide notice or pay in lieu of notice. However, the employer must be able to demonstrate that the conduct was serious enough to warrant termination and that the employee was given an opportunity to improve (except in cases of extreme misconduct).
Proving just cause can be difficult, and if an employer fails to meet the high threshold required, the termination may be deemed wrongful. Therefore, employers are often advised to seek legal counsel before proceeding with a for-cause dismissal.
Constructive dismissal in Alberta is a more nuanced concept in employment law. It occurs when an employer unilaterally changes a fundamental term of the employment contract, such as significantly reducing pay or hours, or drastically changing the nature of the employee’s work. If the employee resigns as a result, it may be considered as though they were dismissed.
This type of dismissal can be challenging to prove, as the burden of proof lies with the employee to demonstrate that the changes were substantial and that they were not agreed upon. Employees facing such a situation are advised to seek legal counsel before resigning, as leaving employment voluntarily can limit potential remedies.
Wrongful dismissal in Alberta refers to situations where an employer terminates an employee without sufficient cause and fails to provide the employee with adequate notice or pay in lieu of notice, in violation of the Alberta Employment Standards Code or the terms of the employee’s contract.
In cases of wrongful dismissal, employees may be entitled to compensation for damages, which typically includes the wages they would have earned during the notice period. The notice period can be determined by statutory minimums, common law principles (which consider factors such as the employee’s age, length of service, character of employment, and availability of similar employment), or by the terms of the employee’s contract, whichever is the most beneficial to the employee.
A temporary layoff in Alberta is a unique circumstance in which an employer interrupts an employee’s employment for a specific period, with the intent to recall them to work later. Under the Alberta Employment Standards Code, a temporary layoff can last up to 60 days within a 120-day period. If the layoff extends beyond this, it is considered a termination, and the employer will be required to provide notice or pay in lieu of notice.
During a temporary layoff, certain obligations such as the continuation of benefits may still apply, unless the employee agrees otherwise. The laws surrounding temporary layoffs can be complex, and employers considering this route should seek legal advice.
Understanding the different types of employment termination in Alberta can help both employers and employees navigate these complex situations with more clarity and confidence. While this guide provides an overview of the legal landscape, it is always advisable to seek legal advice when facing termination, as each situation can present unique considerations. By staying informed and proactive, both parties can ensure a fair and respectful conclusion to the employment relationship.