Wrongful dismissal doesn't mean you can't be fired
QUESTION: I started a job just under 3months ago. The hiring letter said there would be a 3-month probationary period and that I could be terminated at any time before 3 months was up without any pay in lieu of notice. Just before the 3 months ended, they terminated me any reason whatsoever. They had never said told me I was doing anything wrong. They offered me two weeks pay if I would sign a release. Do I have to sign the release or do they owe me that money anyways? Don’t I have a legal right to know the reason for my termination? Don’t they have to act reasonably in terminating me?
ANSWER: They do not owe you anything and you should take the offer. I have to admit, I’m a little surprised that they made you an offer of two weeks pay. Unless you were in a management position, even if you had been there a full year, you might not have been entitled to more than two weeks notice.
Even if your employer had not had you sign a hiring letter which confirmed the probationary period and their right to terminate without notice, it is doubtful you would be owed any money.
The employer has no legal obligation to tell you why you were terminated. This is true whether or not you were terminated during a probationary period.
Unfortunately, the legal system has created some confusion. Everyone hears about “wrongful dismissal” lawsuits. The term implies that the employee is suing because the employer had no right to fire them. That is not the case. When employees sue for wrongful dismissal, they are suing because the employer did not give them enough working notice or pay in lieu of notice. There is no requirement that the employer have a good reason or any reason unless the employee is in a union.
Of course, if the employer doesn’t need to give you a reason, they certainly don’t need to act reasonably. They are not obliged to give you warnings or subject you to progressive discipline, whether or not you are terminated during your probationary period.
Maybe they felt guilty about not letting you know you were not working out. Whatever the reason, take their money.
As published in The Hamilton Spectator, September 1, 2006.