Every day I hear from individuals across British Columbia who believe they have not been handed a fair severance offer by their employer. I also field countless queries — through my firm’s website, the Employment Law Show on radio and TV, and weekly livestreams on YouTube and Facebook — from people who have already accepted inadequate severance packages and are only now asking the vital questions they should have brought to an employment lawyer before they signed on the dotted line.
Here are five of the most important things to know if you are let go and looking to get a fair severance package.
Severance pay is based on many factors
A severance package for a B.C. employee isn’t simply two weeks’ pay. The law doesn’t solely rely on your length of service to a company to determine the proper amount, either. Things like your ability to find a new job, your job position or title, and your age should all be factored in under what we call common law severance.
Depending on these factors, your employer may owe you many months of pay. For instance, a middle manager in their 60s who is let go or laid off after 22 years with the company may be entitled to receive as much as 24 months’ pay.
The amount you are offered, however, is often far less than what you should receive. An employment lawyer can help you navigate the tricky situation that is negotiating a severance package.
READ MORE: Severance pay for independent contractors
Don’t call the Employment Standards Branch
The Employment Standards Branch (ESB) can only help you get the minimum amount of severance your employer owes you under B.C. provincial law, which is as much as eight weeks’ wages. The ESB can’t get you a full severance package that includes both your provincial and common law entitlements.
This is why contacting the government for assistance following a termination may result in tens of thousands of dollars being left on the table. An employment lawyer at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP can help secure both your provincial and common law entitlements.
You don’t have to abide by your employer’s deadline
Many people panic when their former employer says they have to accept a severance package immediately or the offer will be revoked. Employees in B.C. have two full years by law to pursue severance. You don’t have to abide by your employer’s deadline to get your severance, and they can’t force you to sign an offer.
Companies use severance package deadlines as a pressure tactic. They’re trying to get you to agree to an amount that may be well below your full entitlements. Before you accept an offer, have an employment lawyer review it to ensure you haven’t been wrongfully dismissed.
Some employment contracts contain illegal termination clauses
Employment contracts lay out the terms of a relationship between the employer and an employee. They specify things like responsibilities, compensation and hours of work. Employment contracts almost always benefit the employer over the employee. I see a lot of employment contracts with restrictive — and sometimes illegal — termination clauses.
Some employment contracts try to eliminate a person’s right to full, common law severance pay, while others illegally attempt to cancel their provincial minimums. If you have an employment contract with a restrictive termination clause and you’re laid off, speak to an experienced employment lawyer immediately. Often these termination clauses aren’t valid, and we can make sure that you get a fair package.
If your employer asks you to sign a new employment contract, they may be trying to make unfavourable changes to your job, such as limiting your severance upon termination. But they can’t force you to sign a new employment contract if you are already working for them.
You’re owed severance whether you work part-time or full-time
Even if you’re a part-time worker, you are still entitled to a severance package. Your hours worked are only one factor that determines what you’re entitled to upon termination.
Before you accept any severance offer from your employer, use the Severance Pay Calculator, a free tool my firm developed to help employees, and read our comprehensive resource about severance pay in B.C.
Have you been let go from your job? Are you trying to figure out how much severance pay you should receive?
Contact the firm or call 1-855-821-5900 to secure assistance from an employment lawyer in British Columbia, Alberta or Ontario. Get the advice you need — and the compensation you deserve.
Lior Samfiru is an employment lawyer and partner at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, one of Canada’s leading law firms specializing in employment law and disability claims. He provides free advice as the host of Canada’s only Employment Law Show on TV and radio.