When an employer says it has ’cause’ to terminate your employment, make sure that you get the exact wording right. Legally speaking, there is a world of difference between ’cause’ and ‘just cause’ for termination.

Many employers confuse their business case for letting someone go with just cause, in law, when using the generic term ’cause’ for termination.

While business cause may be a corporate justification for a decision to end the employment relationship, it does not necessarily constitute legal cause with the import of legal implications.

When an employer has just cause, at law, for termination of employment, the implication is serious. In those circumstances, the employee is neither entitled to notice of termination, nor any compensation in lieu of notice.

One of the classic definitions of just cause for termination was enunciated by the Ontario Court of Appeal many years ago, and states:

    If an employee has been guilty of serious misconduct, habitual neglect of duty, incompetence, or conduct incompatible with his duties, or prejudicial to the employer’s business, or if he has been guilty of willful disobedience to the employer’s orders in a matter of substance, the law recognizes the employer’s right summarily to dismiss the delinquent employee.

Of course, each situation will depend upon the facts. The Supreme Court of Canada has shed further light on the subject of just cause for termination concluding that any form of misconduct or misbehaviour, to the extent proven, must then be weighed in the context of the individual’s entire employment relationship in order to determine whether the punishment, in effect, fits the crime.

Not every case of employee misconduct or misbehaviour justifies summary termination without any advance notice or compensation package.

See also: Three easy ways to lose your job with no compensation whatsoever

Norman Grosman tackles your employment law dilemmas regularly on Workopolis. More information about him and his legal services can be found on his website grosman.com