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Can I sue my former employer in court?
Clear language definitions to common legal terms.
If you left your job or got fired, you might have a claim against your employer. And you might have the option of suing your employer in court.
Choosing court or the Ministry of Labour
The Workers' Action Centre has a fact sheet called Court or the Ministry of Labour? that has basic information about these options and the differences between them.
Some of the differences are:
- how much work you have to do
- how easy or complicated it is
- financial risks
- how long you can expect the process to take
- what you can claim
- who can make the employer pay if you win
It's important to get legal advice before you decide what to do.
Choosing which court
If you're suing an employer for $25,000 or less, you do this in Small Claims Court.
If you want to sue for more than $25,000, you have to do this in Superior Court. It's very hard to do this without a lawyer. If you want to sue in Superior Court, you should try to get legal help If you have a low income, you might be able to get help from Pro Bono Ontario.
1. Consider reasons for and against making a claim with the Ministry of Labour
Reasons to make a Ministry of Labour claim
Below are reasons you might prefer to make an employment standards claim with the Ministry of Labour rather than sue your employer in court:
- The process is free.
- It's easier than suing in court.
- If you get a new job right away, this does not reduce the amount your employer owes you as termination pay.
- There’s no risk that you'll have to pay the employer's legal costs for taking part in the process.
- If you win but the employer doesn't pay, the Ministry will try to make them pay.
- The Ministry may be able to order an employer to give you your job back but a court can't do that.
Reasons not to make a Ministry of Labour claim
Below are reasons you might not want to use the Ministry of Labour claim process:
- If you were fired, the amount of termination pay is limited to what is in the Employment Standards Act (ESA) but a court will often give you more.
- If the employer successfully argues that you're an independent contractor, the Ministry won't be able to deal with your claim but a court will often give you more.
2. Consider reasons for and against suing in court
Reasons to sue in court
Below are reasons you might prefer to sue in court rather than use the Ministry of Labour process:
- If you were fired, a court can decide that your employer has to give you more than the minimum amount of notice in the Employment Standards Act.
- A court can also consider whether your employer did something that goes against your human rights.
- If you worked as an independent contractor, you don't have the option of making a claim with the Ministry of Labour.
Reasons not to sue in court
Below are reasons you might not want to sue in court:
- You have to pay court fees.
- If you lose, the court could order you to pay some of the employer's legal costs.
- It's more complicated and a lot more work for you, especially if you don’t have a lawyer.
- It usually takes longer.
- If you win but the employer doesn't pay, it's up to you to try to collect the money.
- If you want to sue for more than $25,000, you have to do this in Superior Court, which is very hard to do without a lawyer.
3. Get legal advice
To make sure you know your options and are able to make the best choice about what to do, it's a good idea to get legal advice.
A lawyer with experience in employment law can help by giving you advice about:
- how much your employer might have to pay you, if you were fired
- whether you should file a claim with the Ministry of Labour or go to court
- what other rights you may have
The Law Society Referral Service can give you the name of a lawyer or paralegal you can consult with for free, for up to 30 minutes.
JusticeNet is a program for Canadians with low or moderate incomes. It connects people with lawyers and paralegals who charge lower legal fees based on your income.
There are community legal clinics across Ontario that provide free legal services to people with low incomes. Some clinics help people with work-related problems. And if a clinic can't help you, they may be able to refer you to someone in your community who can.