Sometimes being forced out of a job is the same as being fired. The law calls this constructive dismissal.
Constructive dismissal happens when your employer does something that:
- changes things at work for you in a major way,
- is not something you should have expected, and
- you don’t agree to or accept it.
When this happens, it's like you've been fired. So if you leave the job, you have the same rights as if you were fired. This includes the right to termination pay or pay in lieu of notice.
Changes that won't be constructive dismissal
Employers can make a lot of changes that are not constructive dismissal. Some changes are not significant enough. For example, your employer might have the right to ask you to work at a different location in the same city.
Some changes might be about things you already agreed could change. For example, your employer might have told you before you were hired that they might change your work schedule.
The law about what is and what isn't constructive dismissal is very complicated. A lot depends on the details of your situation. It's important to get legal advice.
Changes that might be constructive dismissal
Here are some examples of things that might be serious enough that it would be like getting fired:
- Your employer lowers your wages by a lot or refuses to pay you what they owe you.
- Your employer takes away core responsibilities and lowers your position. For example, you are no longer a supervisor and are doing the work you used to supervise others to do.
- Your employer abuses you, harasses you, or discriminates against you in a way that goes against your human rights.
The law about what is and what isn't constructive dismissal is very complicated. A lot depends on the details of your situation. It's important to get legal advice right away.
If you think that your employer is forcing you out of your job, it's important to get legal advice right away.
Why it's important to get legal advice
If you leave the job, you might have the same rights as if you were fired, including the right to get termination pay. But there's no easy way to know this. It's very complicated. So you need to talk to a lawyer with experience in employment law.
If you continue to work, your employer may say that you have agreed to the changes. If you leave the job later, you might not have the same rights as if you were fired.
A lawyer can also tell you what your options are and what you might be able to claim if you leave the job. For example, a lawyer could tell you if your employer would likely owe you termination pay and how much that might be.
If you can't afford to hire a lawyer, there are places where you may be able to get some legal help.
Options if you can't afford a lawyer
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.
It can be helpful to make notes of things that happen at work. It's best to make them when things happen so you still remember them well. Emailing the notes to yourself can help to prove when you made the notes.
And when you speak to a lawyer, it's important to bring with you any documents that relate to your job.
Some documents may help to show that your employer is forcing you to leave your job. Here are some examples of things that might be helpful:
- your employment contract or job description
- any letter or email you got when you were hired to show what you and your employer agreed to when you started the job
- letters, memos, or emails from your employer to show things like changes in your job or changes in the way your employer has treated you
- pay stubs
- records of the hours you worked
- notes you made about changes in your job or how your employer treated you
After you get legal advice, you need to decide what to do. And it's important not to wait too long to decide whether to leave the job or continue to work.
This is because if you continue to work, your employer may say that you have agreed to the changes. If you leave the job later, you might not be able to say that you were forced out of your job.
But if your employer is doing things like abusing you or humiliating you, then even if you stay you might have a right to claim constructive dismissal.
And you might be able to keep working and still have the right to say you were fired if you tell your employer that you object to the situation and may take legal action. But this is risky and might not work. Don't try this without getting legal help.
You might be able to get Employment Insurance (EI) benefits.
And, you might be able to get EI even though you were fired. You can find out more about the fules to qualify for EI in Employment Insurance.
If you don't qualify or you're waiting for EI, you might be able to get social assistance benefits from Ontario Works (OW). To get OW assistance, you must qualify financially. This means that you must need financial help so that you have enough money to live on.
You must also meet OW rules about:
- income, which is how much money you already get
- assets, which are things you own and any money or savings you have
You can apply for OW online.
The information you enter online goes to your local OW office. Within 3 business days, a worker from that office is supposed to phone you to set up an appointment to complete the application.
If you don't have a phone number, call your local OW office to make the appointment.