What To Expect in a Severance Package in Canada

Canadian employees who are dismissed “without cause” are usually entitled to a reasonable severance package.  This may not be the case if the employee signed an enforceable employment contract that contains a termination clause, though sometimes these contracts can be challenged.  Most other employees can usually expect severance arrangements based on “reasonable notice.”  The actual definition of “wrongful dismissal” in Canada is simply a failure to provide that reasonable severance package.  If you signed an employment contract or offer letter when you first started, that is probably one of the first things a lawyer will need to review.

Here are some of the key things to look for as part of a “reasonable” severance package.

Severance Pay or Salary Continuation:  It goes without saying that the most important component is usually the severance itself.  Employers can choose to pay over time, with or without some kind of claw back (or “mitigation”) clause, or in one or more lump sums.  In most cases, this is the most important part of the severance package and in many cases, different components are negotiable.  The severance must, at a minimum, include compensation for the relevant provincial employment standards amount.  For example, in Ontario, the severance package must provide for notice pay under the Ontario Employment Standards Act and severance pay, if applicable.   If you are Federally regulated employee (someone who works in a bank, telecommunications company, tv network etc.,) the Canada Labour Code would apply instead of the provincial legislation.  Beyond the employment standards amount, employees can negotiate the length of time, the trigger for mitigation, the payment schedule or other terms.  This is all aimed at ensuring that the employee is compensated as required by Ontario common law, which itself, can vary wildly for each employee.  This is the area on which appropriate legal advice should generally be obtained.  The period of time for which the employee is being compensated is generally called the notice period or severance period.  

Bonus:  Dismissed employees should usually be compensated for accrued bonus for the current year (if there has usually been an annual bonus), as well as bonus for the severance period.  Many employers are quite reluctant to include the prospective bonus as part of the severance package.  If the employee has been getting the bonus every year and can show that he or she would have continued to get a bonus if employment had continued over the severance period, the bonus should be payable.  There may be wording in the original employment contract that overrides this entitlement, but it is often worth trying.  If there is wording in an employment contract or agreement that deals with the bonus, this will be something that needs to be properly assessed and considered.

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