Wrongful Dismissal vs. Termination Without Cause

Wrongful Dismissal vs. Termination Without Cause

You’re going about your usual workday and suddenly receive an unexpected invitation to a meeting. You attend the meeting with someone you might recognize – they work for human resources. Your employer terminates your employment effective immediately, provides you a letter, and gives you paperwork work to sign. You may be told to return company property, clear out your desk, and leave.


Sound familiar? Maybe it went differently for you, but this is a common termination scenario. Your employer didn’t give you a reason for your termination and it feels wrong. You might have read the letter and saw the phrase “termination without cause”.  After so many years of excellent work, they’re letting you go without an explanation.


You might have heard the term “wrongful dismissal” before. This termination certainly felt wrongful. They fired you after years of strong performance, dedicated service, and countless hours of unpaid overtime, and didn’t bother to provide you with a reason. Like any end to a relationship without an explanation, it leaves you anxious and wondering.


It might surprise you that termination without cause and wrongful dismissal are not the same thing. What is the difference between them? You’ll find the answer to that question and guidance what to do if you’re terminated without cause below.


What is a Termination Without Cause?


Contrary to popular belief, employers have the legal right to terminate employees for no reason. When an employer terminates you without cause, they’re saying “I am ending the employment agreement, and it is not your fault”. In other words, “it’s not you, it’s me”.


When an employer properly terminates an employee without cause. They owe the employee either working notice in advance of the termination date or pay in lieu of that notice. In Ontario, all employers owe employees their minimum statutory entitlements under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 upon termination without cause.


Where there is no written and enforceable termination clause in the employment agreement, employers further owe the employee common law reasonable notice for their termination.


Common law reasonable notice includes your statutory termination entitlements. Where the maximum statutory termination pay in Ontario is 34 weeks of regular wages. The amount for common law severance can reach as high as 26 months.  Courts look at several factors to determine how much notice your employer owes you under common law.


Employers usually pay their employee’s minimum statutory entitlements upon termination without cause. However, what if the employer owes the employee common law reasonable notice over and above the minimum statutory entitlements? What if your employer pays no termination entitlements at all?


When is a Termination Without Cause a Wrongful Dismissal?

When the employer does not provide the employee sufficient working notice or pay in lieu, the employee can sue their employer for it. This would be a “wrongful dismissal action” or wrongful dismissal.


All wrongful dismissals are terminations, but not all terminations are wrongful dismissals. It is for a court to decide if your claim for wrongful dismissal should succeed. Because you are entitled to more than what you were paid for severance.


The most common scenarios of wrongful dismissals include an employer paying you:

  • only your statutory minimum notice after terminating you without cause when you are entitled to more for common law notice;
  • some but not all of your owed common law notice after terminating you without cause;
  • no severance whatsoever upon terminating you without cause; and
  • no severance whatsoever because your employer is alleging cause for your termination.


The key to suing for wrongful dismissal is understanding what your full severance entitlements are when your employer terminates you without cause. In fact, there are several steps an employee should take when terminated without cause to determine if they can sue their employer for wrongful dismissal.


What to Do If Terminated Without Cause

Determining whether your termination without cause is a wrongful dismissal requires knowledge about your legal entitlements and preserving your right to sue. An employee should take the following steps upon their employer terminating them without cause:


  1. Do not sign anything, even if your employer insists that you do it immediately upon terminating you. This can include a “Full and Final Release” that waives any right you may have to sue your employer. Stay calm and respectfully ask for time to seek legal advice.


  1. Ensure you take all your belongings with you before you leave and sign out of any personal digital accounts from any employer devices.


  1. Gather any documents you think may be relevant and ask your employer for a copy of your employment agreement if you do not have such a copy.


  1. After you leave the workplace, note any details about what happened at the termination meeting in writing.


  1. Schedule a consultation with an employment lawyer as soon as possible to determine your legal entitlements and guidance for the next steps.



Employers generally have the right to terminate an employee without cause. Employees are entitled to notice or pay in lieu when their employer terminates them without cause.


If an employer does not provide an employee sufficient notice or pay in lieu, the employee can sue their employer for wrongful dismissal. Not all terminations without cause are wrongful dismissals. The best way to determine your legal rights against your employer for terminating you is to talk to an employment lawyer.


Our lawyers at Achkar Law regularly help employees negotiate and sue for wrongful dismissal. Book a consultation with one of our lawyers today to review your severance offer, determine your legal rights and learn how you can maximize your severance entitlements.


Contact Us

Whether you are an employer or an employee needing assistance with termination without cause and wrongful dismissal our team of experienced employment and human rights lawyers at Achkar Law can help. Contact us by phone toll-free at +1 (800) 771-7882 or email us at [email protected] and we will be happy to assist.


If you are a small or medium-sized company looking for full-service support with same day response, visit our CLO Program page for our strategic solutions.


Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to serve as or should be construed as legal advice and is only to provide general information. It is in no way particular to your case and should not be relied on in any way. No portion or use of this blog will establish a lawyer-client relationship with the author or any related party. Should you require legal advice for your particular situation, fill out the contact form, call (800) 771-7882 or email [email protected]