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Legal Considerations Before Resigning From A Job

Legal Considerations Before Resigning From A Job

There’s more to it than handing in your notice of departure.

Resigning from a job seems pretty simple. You say “I quit” to your boss and that’s that. Or is it?

Actually both you and the employer have legal obligations when you terminate your employment. For instance you must give reasonable notice: two weeks is customary but may not be enough. Also if you quit in the heat of an emotional moment you might not have really resigned!

There are other nuances to learn about before taking the plunge. Although getting sued for “wrongful resignation” is uncommon, it has been known to happen.

Resigning Properly

How much notice do I have to give my employer?

Unless there’s an employment contract in force that states the amount of notice to be provided, Canadian common law requires that "reasonable notice" be offered by the employee when they resign. It’s normal (but not a legal requirement) to give two weeks of notice.

However a “reasonable” resignation period is based on several factors. These include the employee’s position, length of service, pay, and time it would likely take to replace the employee. You may want to negotiate a fair departure notice if your position is especially important to the employer.

Must I submit a letter of resignation?

It’s wise to also submit your resignation in writing, otherwise it will only be on record verbally. If the employer decides to dispute your parting in court and claim you didn’t quit, or that you failed to give appropriate notice, you don’t want it to just be your word against theirs.

What is Wrongful Resignation?

If you don’t provide reasonable notice when quitting, the employer could take you to court for wrongful resignation. But this doesn’t happen often. The employer would have to prove they were financially damaged by your actions.

Financial Matters

Will I get employment insurance if I resign?

When someone quits they’re normally not eligible to collect Employment Insurance. That could change if there are certain extenuating circumstances, such as showing you were harassed, constructively dismissed, had your Human Rights violated, or it was a toxic workplace.

What about severance pay?

Ordinarily this isn’t available in resignations. Except unless you ask you won’t know for sure. 

It might be worth requesting that the employer deem your departure a downsizing (termination not for cause). Then you’d likely be entitled to severance and Employment Insurance.

Is my employer obligated to pay me for my entire notice period?

Generally yes, if you’ve given proper notice then fulfill your duties accordingly. During the accepted notice period an employer should maintain your pay, plus group health and welfare benefits, whether or not they ask you to leave immediately.

Do they have to give me my final paycheck after I quit?

Yes, though they may decide to delay it somewhat as retaliation. They also have to include accumulated vacation pay. Bonuses and commissions owed, on the other hand, depend on the employer’s policies and common law decisions.

Legal Rights

If I quit under heated circumstances, is that final?

Quitting rashly – for example after arguing with the boss, or on learning you’ve been deprived of an expected raise – may be reversible. Courts have granted a cooling-off period of several days to reconsider things, even after the employer formally accepted a resignation. There’s no guarantee though. So keep cool during a heated resignation.

Does my current employer have to provide a positive reference?

There is no legal obligation for an employer to provide a reference, never mind a glowing one.

Do I have to attend an exit interview if asked to do so?

Some employers ask departing workers to take part in an exit interview. They want to know why you’re leaving, and what they could have done to improve. You aren’t legally required to attend.

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Disclaimer: This article is not to be construed as legal advice. It is for general information purposes only and may not be applicable to your specific situation.


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