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I've been fired. Does my employer have to give me a reason?
Clear language definitions to common legal terms.
No, your employer does not have to give you a reason.
But in most cases, if you're fired your employer must give you written notice of termination.
And in some cases, they can fire you without giving you notice.
Why employers don't give reasons
Employers often fire people without telling them why.
There are some reasons employers cannot use to fire workers. If an employer fires you for one of these reasons, they’re breaking the law.
If your employer doesn't give a reason, they're less likely to say something that you could use to prove that they fired you for a reason that's against the law.
Reasons that are against the law
Rights that are part of the Employment Standards Act
The law says your employer cannot fire you for doing something that the Employment Standards Act (ESA) says you have the right to do.
Some examples of rights that are in the ESA include:
- taking pregnancy or parental leave and returning to your job at the end of your leave
- asking about your rights or asking your employer to obey the law
- refusing to sign an agreement that affects your rights, for example, an agreement about how you will be paid for overtime
- making a claim against your employer with the Ministry of Labour
- giving information about your employer to an Employment Standards Officer from the Ministry of Labour
Your employer is breaking the law if they fire you for a reason that goes against your human rights. For example, it is against the law to fire you because of:
- your race, colour, ancestry, ethnic origin, citizenship, or where you were born
- your religious beliefs
- a physical or mental disability that you have, including an addiction
- the fact that you have children, plan to have children, or are pregnant
- your marital status, for example, married, divorced, single, or living common-law
- your sex or gender
- your sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression
It's against the law for your employer to fire you because you asked about a health or safety issue at work. For example, you asked for details about chemicals used in your workplace or refused to do unsafe work.
It's also against the law for your employer to fire you because you did something that laws to protect the environment say you have the right to do. For example, you have the right to ignore your employer’s orders to break these laws.
Ask your employer why you've been fired
Your employer doesn't have to give a reason. So they might not say anything, even if you ask.
Or they might give a reason that they can use without breaking the law. For example, they might say that business is slow and they don't have enough work to keep you on.
If they give a reason, it might help you decide what to do. If you don't believe or don't agree with the reason, you might want to get legal advice.
Gather your evidence
You might know that you were fired for a reason that goes against your rights.
But sometimes it's hard to show that this is why you were fired.
It's a good idea to get legal advice. But before you talk to a lawyer, try to collect any documents or information that might help you.
When you talk to a lawyer, here are some things that might be helpful:
- your employment contract, if you have one
- paperwork your employer gave you when you were fired, including your Record of Employment
- any letters, memos, or emails that might help to show why you were fired
- documents or other things that show what you did to claim your rights as a worker
- any notes you made about things that happened at work, for example, if you were treated in a way that goes against your human rights
- contact information for co-workers or others who saw or heard things that could help you show why you were fired
Try to get legal advice
If you think your employer has fired you for a reason that's against the law, you should get legal advice.
A lawyer with experience in employment law can help by giving you advice about:
- what your rights are
- what you should do to protect your rights
- whether you should take legal action against your employer and how to do this
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.
Think about your options
You can make a claim to the Ministry of Labour if you were fired because you did something that the Employment Standards Act (ESA) says you had a right to do.
You can make a complaint to the Ontario Labour Relations Board if you were fired for a reason that goes against:
- your right to health and safety at work
- your rights under laws to protect the environment
You can make a human rights claim at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal if you were fired for a reason that goes against your human rights.
If the Ministry of Labour, Ontario Labour Relations Board, or Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario decide that your employer broke the law, they can order your employer to give you your job back and pay you for:
- harm done to you because your employer didn’t respect your rights
- costs you had because of what your employer did
But they rarely order an employer to give you back your job.
Costs can include money for:
- wages you would have earned if you hadn't been fired
- expenses you had because you were looking for a job