More than 900 employees of Better.com, a digital mortgage company in the U.S., had their calendars unexpectedly cleared when they were laid off in a three-minute Zoom on December 1.
CEO Vishal Garg has since apologized for not being more respectful of affected employees on the call, which was the second time he had handled a mass layoff.
As Better.com has come under fire for its chosen course of action, my employment law colleagues and I have gotten a number of questions about what an employer can and cannot do during a termination as well as what employees’ rights are in that situation.
Here are the answers to some of the most common questions.
Can my employer fire me over Zoom or in a large group?
An employer can terminate an employee any number of ways, including in person or by email, letter, phone call, text message or video conference — as long as they give employees the proper amount of severance. Employers are not necessarily obligated to conduct terminations behind closed doors or on a one-on-one basis.
Despite this broad discretion, legal precedent says that employers owe staff a duty of good faith and have an obligation to treat them with respect and civility, even when ending the employment relationship. This means that if you are let go in a humiliating or demeaning fashion, you may be owed financial compensation.
What should happen in a termination meeting?
Typically, you will be brought into a meeting with your immediate supervisor and another representative of the employer, such as someone from human resources or legal counsel, who serves as a witness.
During this meeting, you will be advised that you are being let go either immediately or at some later date.
Although it is most common for terminations to take effect immediately, some employers may decide to give you notice of upcoming termination. This is called working notice, and your employer usually gets credit against your severance package for the time you remain actively employed, provided they comply with certain requirements.
Your employer should provide documentation expressly outlining the terms of your dismissal, including the effective date, whether it is with or without cause, and the details of your entitlements upon termination, usually known as severance.
You should be given an opportunity to review and digest the terms of your dismissal. In my employment law practice, I tell clients they should never sign anything on the spot. If your employer is pressuring you to sign the severance offer immediately, that is a huge red flag.
As these meetings are uncomfortable and difficult, they are typically short. I also often hear that they feel surprisingly impersonal given the circumstances.
Unless you are being terminated for cause, an action that’s only justified by serious misconduct, your employer may not even explain why you’re being fired, which is why it’s called a termination without cause.
If your termination is effective immediately, you will be instructed to collect your personal effects and return all company property in your possession. Some employers may require that someone escort you to your desk to collect your things and ensure you leave the premises without incident. Others may allow you to gather your items more discreetly and show yourself out.
What should I do if I am terminated or laid off?
You have the right to review and consider your options before you sign a termination offer, and I always recommend exercising this right.
Even if the offer presented appears to be consistent with what your employment contract says you should receive, I’ve found that many contract terms are legally unenforceable. You may be owed more in severance than what your employer is offering.
I tell clients to keep in mind that an employer’s goal is to let you go in the most cost-effective manner possible.
If you do lose your job, you should speak to an employment lawyer at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP right away so one of us can review your severance offer before you sign it. We are here to help protect your rights and secure your full legal entitlements to severance pay.
Have you been let go from your job? Not sure how to navigate the termination process?
Contact the firm or call 1-855-821-5900 to secure assistance from an employment lawyer in Ontario, British Columbia or Alberta. Get the advice you need — and the compensation you deserve.
Gregory Sills is an employment lawyer at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, Canada’s most positively reviewed law firm specializing in employment law and long-term disability claims. The firm provides free advice on Canada’s only Employment Law Show on TV and radio.