What is Just Cause?

In short, just cause is severe misconduct, neglect or incompetence on the part of an employee.

Usually, employers must provide employees notice or termination pay in lieu of notice before their employment can be terminated. However, in rare cases, employers do not have to give notice or termination pay in lieu of notice if they have just cause to fire an employee. That means that employees who have committed just cause are entitled to nothing upon termination.

Employers rarely have just cause to terminate an employee

Proving just cause is a very difficult, and most employers lose in court. The employer must show that the employee’s actions were so serious that it can no longer trust the employee. There is no single action that proves just cause. Thus, the employer must also show that extenuating circumstances do not justify lesser discipline. In that regard, the courts will sometimes weigh the employee’s actions versus certain factors, including but not limited to:

  • the circumstances of the employee, including:
    • role and responsibility;
    • personal issues;
  • the circumstances of the employer, including:
    • the nature of the business;
    • policies and practices;
  • and the circumstances of the incident(s), including
    • whether such conduct had been permissible, encouraged or ignored in the past;
    • whether it was a first time occurrence, or the employee had been warned before.

Just cause is really, really hard to prove. For example…

In one case, the employer failed to prove just cause despite serious absenteeism and poor work quality because the employee was depressed from the death of his wife. He was awarded $24,000 for wrongful dismissal.

In another case, the employer failed to prove just cause despite the employee having sworn at and assaulted his supervisor. The employee successfully argued that a single instance of poor judgment in the context of an otherwise unblemished employment record did not constitute just cause. He was awarded the equivalent of 8 months’ pay for wrongful dismissal.

In another case, the employer failed to prove just cause where the employee took his client to a strip club, allegedly got drunk, allegedly drove the client back to his office while still drunk, and then assaulted his client in his client’s own parking lot. The employee successfully argued that it was an isolated occurrence in a long unblemished career, and that he and the client were old friends. He was awarded the equivalent of 24 months’ notice for wrongful dismissal.

In another case, the employer failed to prove just cause even though the employee filed three false expense claims. The employee successfully argued that he filed the false claims to recoup proper expenses for which he forgot. He was awarded $118,000 for wrongful dismissal.

In another case, the employer failed to prove just cause where the employee had accessed pornography at work, skipped important meetings, used company resources for personal reasons while on the clock and performed poorly in his tasks. The employee successfully argued that his 11 years of exemplary service outweighed his misconduct. He was awarded $37,000 for wrongful dismissal.

In another case, the employer failed to prove just cause even though the employee and his subordinate used company time and resources to make a patio set for personal use. The employee successfully argued that the employer had permitted other employees to use company time and resources to make personal items over 100 times. He was awarded $130,000 for wrongful dismissal.

What happens if the employer fails to prove just cause?

If the employer fails to prove just cause, then the employee is entitled to termination pay in lieu of notice just as if they had been terminated without cause. In that case, the employee has to argue how much termination pay in lieu of notice they are entitled to.

In addition, if the employee can successfully argue that the employer fired them for cause (or made similar threats) to avoid paying termination pay in lieu of notice, then the employee could be entitled to sue for more money above and beyond the award for termination pay. These “aggravated damages” compensate the employee for the employer’s bad faith conduct in the manner of termination. For an average employee, aggravated damages are usually awarded in the $25,000 – $50,000 range, tax free. Contact us to learn more about “aggravated damages”.

What should I do if I have been fired for cause?

Dutton is a Toronto just cause law firm. Call us today to see if you have a case for wrongful dismissal.