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When Can an Employee Be Terminated for Cause?

Termination for cause is a hot topic in work-related platforms and that is for a good reason

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When Can an Employee Be Terminated for Cause?

Termination for cause is a hot topic in work-related platforms and that is for a good reason. Stories of people who have been fired for what looks like no reason are common; but are things truly what they look like on the surface?

What entails termination for cause is not as clear for many people in The United States and Canada. Some employees say that this part of the work agreement was never discussed in detail with them and hence they should not be subject to it.

But is this really the case?

Can an employee be terminated for cause?

And if so, when and for what reasons?

Know that termination for cause is an implied term in all employment contracts whether they may be written or verbal.

An employer doesn’t have to keep someone employed if there is due reason for the employer to let the employee go.

That’s right! An employer does not have any obligation to send a notice or pay an employee if enough cause is found to terminate the employee.

How Can Someone Be Fired Legally with No Notice?

“If an employer has proof that the employee somehow breached the employment contract, then the employer is not required by the law to provide a notice or pay instead of notice before termination” says Calvin Barry, a well-known Toronto criminal lawyer.

Take note, that there must be proof that the employee undermined the employment relationship or did something that would make the contract fundamentally breached.

Legitimate Reasons to Fire an Employee Under Termination for Cause

The employee is substantially prejudicial to the employer’s business. This means that the employee’s actions damaged the reputation of the employer or the business. This also covers actions by the employee that caused harm to the employer’s customers.

Another reason is when the action of the employee is fundamentally inconsistent with the employee’s obligations towards the employer.

The actions or conducts above may be an omission, a single act on itself, or a series of acts or omissions.

Examples of Termination for Cause

So, when can an employee may be terminated for cause?  

Note that an employer is free to fire an employee under any of the following circumstances:

  • If the employee is habitually neglectful or incompetent in the performance of duties
  • If an employee was persistently dishonest
  • If the employee was found guilty of theft or fraud in the workplace
  • If the employee is unjustifiably late or absent; and more so if committed excessively
  • If the employee goes to work under the influence of illicit drugs and the drugs used are not for treatment of existing medical conditions or disability
  • If the employee is guilty of misconduct whether it may be on duty or off duty
  • If the employee has been abusive or harassing towards customers, clients, colleagues, or employers
  • If the employee has been willfully disobedient or insubordinate to the employer’s justified orders

This list is not an exhaustive list of reasons for someone to be terminated without notice. Additionally, other factors may also be considered on top of the reasons listed above.

Misconduct is A Factor, But Not the Sole Determining Factor

Just because an employee is guilty of misconduct does not mean they can be automatically fired with no legal repercussions. Know that the degree of misconduct must be at a level that makes the employment relationship completely undermined.

What does this mean?

Simply put, if the committed act is not at such a level, then the employer must proceed with progressive discipline first or at least provide sufficient warnings before terminating the employee for a cause.

Additionally, in the event that the misconduct involves substance abuse or alcohol abuse, the employee may be protected by the law.

For instance, under the Canadian Human Rights Act, employees who are using alcohol or other substances may be considered disabled or have a medical condition which will then prohibit the employer from terminating the employee.

More so, the employer may lose the privilege to terminate for cause if it can be shown that the employer has condoned the employee’s actions in any way, may it be implicitly or explicitly. The same applies if the employer delayed or failed to address the misconduct.

With the above said, a satisfactory paper trail of evidence that shows that the employer has warned the employee and used progressive discipline is needed to justify termination for cause.

What Determines Cause? How is Cause Determined?

The employer is burdened with the need to prove that the employee was terminated for a valid reason under termination for cause. Meaning, that the employer must establish enough evidence that the employee acted in a way that fundamentally breaches the employment contract.

What happens if the employer cannot do so?

Without sufficient evidence, the dismissal may be considered wrongful. If the termination was considered wrongful, then the employee is entitled to damages.

How much will the damages be?

In this case, the damages are similar in value to having received reasonable notice. Bad faith damages may also be required if the employer fails to prove termination for a cause since the employee is deemed inappropriately accused of wrongdoing.

Your Legal Recourse

Proving cause for termination is tricky. There are no solid rules or concrete standards for determining the cause of termination. Each case will have to be individually weighed to determine if termination is justified.

Factors that can be considered include:

  • The workplace’s organizational structure
  • The type of misconduct or transgression
  • The employee’s position in the organization
  • The type of business the employer is engaged in
  • Whether or not the misconduct was committed off-work or at work

Are you dealing with legal issues concerning termination for cause in North America? If you have further questions or concerns, do not hesitate to contact an experienced criminal lawyer for help. It just might be the best decision you ever make.

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