Thousands of employees are restructured, dismissed or downsized across Canada each week. In some cases, these dismissals are related to the company’s economic performance or to some legitimate “restructuring plan.” In other cases, it is a matter of an employer deciding that an employee is no longer a “good fit.” Sometimes, the dismissal is for “cause,” though that constitutes a relatively small number of Canadian dismissals.
If you have been dismissed, you may be entitled to significant compensation. This can include severance pay, outstanding bonus, compensation for bonus during the severance period, benefits, pension contributions and other amounts. You might be able to get outplacement assistance paid for by the employer and some employers may even pay for your reasonable legal fees to get everything worked out. If you have been given a severance package or a termination letter, here are a few points to keep in mind:
1. Don’t Sign Anything!
Some employers will ask you to sign a severance proposal on the spot, possibly even while also making some threats about what might happen if you don’t sign. Fortunately, most employers are not that unreasonable and would prefer to allow you some time to consider an offer. Take the offer, say very little and let the employer know you will get back to them. Even if you are in a difficult economic position, you will rarely benefit from signing something on the spot at the time of dismissal.
Resist the urge to attack the employer, launch an email missive directed at company personnel or say things you might later regret. Such statements or emails are rarely helpful or productive. If you are being investigated for cause and you are being asked about certain allegations, you may have an obligation to respond. But once you have already been dismissed, there is rarely anything that you might say at a termination meeting that will help with your severance negotiations or with your future references.
One of the first things you should do is find a copy of your original employment contract or offer letter. There may be a “notice clause” or a “severance clause” in the document. If your employment contract or offer letter does have this kind of clause, it may limit your entitlement to severance or notice. You might be stuck with a very limited severance payout. There are some ways around these types of agreements, but not always. This can be very technical and will almost always require professional assistance.
For the best assessment of your employment situation and potential severance, you should gather key documents and information. Your compensation information for the past three years will be crucial including a breakdown of your base salary, bonus (if any), RRSP or pension contributions, car allowance, stock options or share purchase plan amounts, and other components of your compensation. As well, it will be helpful to try to put together a narrative of what occurred that you believe led to your dismissal. If this is a complete surprise and is really just a “restructuring,” there may be no need for an accompanying narrative. You should also try to make sure that you have any relevant emails, memos, performance assessments or other documents that relate to your performance or the reasons for your dismissal. If you are being dismissed for cause, it may be important to get witness statements about what took
If you have been provided with a severance package or you have been dismissed “for cause,” you should get specialized legal advice as soon as possible from an employment lawyer. You may be entitled to far more than the amount that the employer has offered. The employer may be willing to pay reasonable legal fees. You might be able to get certain clauses deleted or modified. Proper legal advice in this situation will usually involve a consultation fee. But you are entitled to objective advice about the best way of dealing with your situation and sound professional advice is almost always going to involve a fee. If the advice is “free,” you should check carefully what kind of retainer you will be expected to provide afterwards or what percentage of the settlement your lawyer will take. You should also find out whether the percentage is related to the whole package or only the improvement. You should feel comfortable with the overall fee arrangements not just the initial consultation itself. You should also feel comfortable that you will get the lawyer’s full attention at the initial meeting without an artificial time constraint so that you have enough time to go over everything that may be relevant.
In most cases, the best way of dealing with a dismissal is to begin the process of finding new employment fairly quickly. You should ask your employer for a reference letter or confirmation that you will be given a positive reference if the employer is phoned. Brush off your resume and consider getting professional assistance in developing a new version of it. Start using internet sources ranging from LinkedIn and Workopolis to Facebook and Monster as you put together your job search strategy. Keep track of all of your efforts, informal and formal contacts and applications. Try to set up “informational meetings” as well as interviews. Try to take care of yourself, which might include getting some exercise, making sure to get out and staying in contact with people important to you. Having a strong support network can help you feel positive about your transition and can also produce employment
Kenneth Krupat, Barrister
2000-393 University Avenue
Toronto, ON M5G 1E6