What is “just cause” for termination?

Unless your employment contract states otherwise, your employer does not need a reason to terminate  your employment as long as it provides you with sufficient notice  of your termination or payment in lieu of notice.  Your employer can, however, terminate your employment without any notice if it has “ “just cause” to do so.  This will include situations in which you have breached your terms of employment either through misconduct, disobedience, or incompetence.

Contextual Approach to Just Cause for Termination

What constitutes just cause depends on a number of factors. In Canada, the courts use a contextual approach to determine whether an employee was terminated for just cause.  They consider the nature and extent of the misconduct, the context and surrounding circumstances and whether the termination or dismissal is warranted (in other words, whether the punishment fits the crime).

Grounds for Termination

1. Neglect of Duty

Whether or not you have a written employment contract, you have an obligation to perform your employment duties. Failure to perform your duties can lead to dismissal. Constantly arriving late for work or simply not showing up for work on a regular basis may be also considered just cause for dismissal if you do not have a reasonable explanation for this behavior.

2. Dishonesty

Trustworthiness is a key factor in any employment relationship. Acts of dishonesty may therefore constitute just cause for dismissal depending on the context and the circumstances of the case. For example, lying to your employer about an important qualification for the position can constitute just cause for dismissal.  Lying to the employer in order to cover up misconduct can also lead to dismissal unless there are mitigating circumstances such as an immediate retraction of the lie.  Whatever the circumstances, honesty is always the best policy.

3. Theft and Fraud

Theft and fraud constitute serious misconduct which, even if isolated, may amount to just cause for termination. Examples of such behavior include improper use of company funds, wrongful use of the employer’s property, abuse of sick leave and conducting personal business on company time. Because these are serious allegations, an employer must be able to prove that you intended to steal or commit fraud. As stated above, the context and surrounding circumstances must be considered in order to determine if there is just cause for dismissal.  For example, an employer may not have just cause to terminate an employee who makes an error in judgment if there was no dishonest motive.  Given the seriousness of allegations of theft or fraud, the employer must also give an employee an opportunity to provide a reasonable explanation for his conduct.

4. Misconduct

An employee may be terminated for cause for engaging in serious misconduct. Such misconduct is usually incompatible with the employee’s duties and prejudicial to the employer’s business.  Examples may include sexual harassment or assault of a co-worker and off-duty criminal conduct which is prejudicial to the employer’s reputation.  Once again, whether the misconduct constitutes just cause for dismissal will largely depend on the nature of the misconduct, the context and surrounding circumstances and whether the termination is reasonable.

5. Incompetence

An employer may not terminate you simply because he is dissatisfied with your performance. In order for an employer to allege just cause in terminating you for incompetence, the employer will have to show that you were warned that you were failing to meet objective standards of performance and that, despite these warnings and the opportunity to improve, you continued to underperform.


Many factors need to be taken into consideration in order to determine whether the employer had just cause to terminate your employment. If you have been terminated without notice for “just cause”, you should seek advice from an employment lawyer.

We are here to help. Consult one of our experienced Employment lawyers at Raven, Cameron, Ballantyne and Yazbeck LLP if you have been terminated from your employment.

 [This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice, which cannot be given without consideration of your individual circumstances.]


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