Return company property, call a lawyer: 5 things to do right away if you’re fired

For most people, getting fired is a shocking and difficult experience — especially if it was unexpected.

Whether you worked for the employer for a few months or many years, whether you were let go in a mass layoff or by yourself, there are steps you should follow to protect your rights.

Here are five things to do when you lose your job.

1. Get a copy of your employment agreement

An employment contract usually contains details about your job, including your title and duties, salary, benefits, hours of work, and annual vacation time. If you signed one when you first started working, the agreement creates a binding understanding between employer and employee that governs the relationship from beginning to end.

An employment contract may also include sections that try to limit your rights when you are let go. Employers may use a termination clause, for example, to limit the amount of severance pay you’re owed when you are laid off.

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But the presence of a termination clause doesn’t mean it holds any water. Many are poorly written and unenforceable. Court decisions have also invalidated some termination clauses, which is what happened in a decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal back in 2020.

Contracts may also carry non-compete or non-solicitation clauses that try to stop you from finding work after your termination. These tend to be unenforceable because they unfairly attempt to stop you from earning a living.

If you were never asked to sign an employment agreement, don’t panic. You can still likely access your full severance rights.

READ MORE: Check the contract, talk to a lawyer: 5 things to do if you’re laid off temporarily

2. Return all company property and pick up personal belongings

It doesn’t matter if it’s a laptop, parking pass or power drill. Always return company property at the end of your employment relationship. Keeping equipment can make it more difficult for you and your employment lawyer to secure a fair severance package. Your employer may also allege that you have stolen the items in question.

You also have a right to retrieve your own property from your former workplace. Talk to the company during or after any termination correspondence to set up a place and time to get your personal items back.

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READ MORE: Laid off in a bad economy? You might be owed more severance, not less

3. Avoid signing a severance offer

When you are let go, your employer will likely give you termination papers to sign. This package may include a severance offer. In my experience, employers often expect you to sign a release and accept the severance they’re offering. They may also give you a tight deadline to sign the offer and threaten to withhold your severance if you fail to accept it.

But your employer can’t force you to take the severance package they offer, especially if you haven’t had a chance to have it reviewed by an employment lawyer. You won’t miss out on severance just because you refuse to sign paperwork during your termination meeting. If your employer insists, it’s often because their severance offer is far below what you’re actually owed.

If you sign a severance offer, you may give up your right to full compensation. Never accept without first using my firm’s severance pay calculator to find out what you may be owed. My firm’s experience through helping tens of thousands of clients across Canada is that an employment lawyer can likely get you a more generous package.

READ MORE: Facing termination? 5 vital facts about severance pay you probably weren’t aware of

4. Apply for EI benefits as soon as possible

If you lose your job through no fault of your own and have worked the required number of hours since your last employment insurance (EI) claim, you can apply for EI benefits.

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EI benefits and severance pay serve the same purpose: to provide income between jobs. Depending on the size and terms of your severance package, EI payments may not actually start for a number of months. If you wait too long to apply for EI, however, you may compromise your ability to obtain it.

Some employers will tell you that you are entitled only to EI, not severance, when you are fired, but this is often not true. In this case, an employment lawyer can confirm your rights and help you increase the chances of your EI claim being approved by Service Canada.

5. Contact an employment lawyer

No matter what your relationship with your employer, they often do not have your best interests in mind when severing the employment relationship.

Following the company’s lead instead of consulting an employment lawyer, like the team at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, could mean leaving tens of thousands of dollars on the table. But with a lawyer’s help, termination disputes are usually settled quickly outside of a courtroom.

Have you been let go or fired from your job? Worried that you’re not getting the severance you’re owed?

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.

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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.

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