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Can you be fired for showing up to work late?

When a setback occurs during your commute, it can have serious consequences for your job.

Max Well, a regular rider of the Ottawa public transit system, recently told local media that he was fired from two jobs after showing up late for work because buses failed to arrive as scheduled. Well said he did everything he could to get to work on time, but was ultimately at the mercy of transit.

My law firm frequently gets questions about what your employer can do if you show up late. Here are the answers to some of the most common ones.

Can my employer fire me if I arrive late for work?

Your employer has the right to let you go for several reasons — including showing up late for work.

This kind of termination is called a dismissal without cause in Canada. It happens when an employer no longer wants to employ a non-unionized employee, but isn’t firing them for serious misconduct or a discriminatory reason, such as their gender or age.

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Under a dismissal without cause, an employer must give the fired employee a full severance package. If the company fails to pay enough severance, the fired individual can get what they are owed through a wrongful dismissal claim.

How much severance should I get if I’m fired for being late?

The value of your severance package depends on many factors, including your age, time spent with the company and position, among other things.

Rather than being just one or two weeks’ pay, your compensation can be as much as 24 months’ pay, and should include things like bonuses, overtime and benefits. Employment lawyers, like the ones at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, can help ensure that all these factors are accounted for in a client’s total severance.

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READ MORE: The most common myths about severance pay, according to an employment lawyer

Can I be disciplined for being late?

Your employer can discipline you if you aren’t taking appropriate action to get to work on time. It’s one thing for your commute to be significantly slowed by something out of your hands, such as an accident on the highway or a technical issue with a train. It’s another thing when you are constantly late because you aren’t giving yourself enough time to navigate your route to the workplace.

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What type of discipline can the company use?

Depending on the type of job you have and your reason for being anything but punctual, your employer may be able to sanction you by issuing a verbal or written warning. A suspension may also be justified. The more important your role and the seriousness of your misconduct, the more serious the penalty may be.

READ MORE: Does a performance improvement plan mean you’re getting fired? What employees need to know

What an employer likely can’t do is apply significant changes to someone’s job as a form of punishment, such as a suspension without pay, pay cut, demotion or temporary layoff.

Unless they were approved by the employee or addressed by a signed employment contract, these drastic changes can be viewed as a termination. The affected worker can pursue a severance package through a constructive dismissal claim.

Employers should thoroughly investigate the reasons why an employee is coming to work late before they apply any discipline. They must be aware of all the factors at play, including whether the employee requires accommodation, such as a different schedule or hours of work, for medical or other protected reasons.

READ MORE: HBC employee’s ‘status change’ a lesson in constructive dismissals: employment lawyer

Can I be fired for cause if I’m late too often?

A company can fire an employee for cause if they are late for work, but only if that person’s actions constitute serious misconduct — think subordination or theft.

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An employer must show evidence that they applied progressive disciplinary measures and gave the employee an opportunity to correct their conduct.

After representing tens of thousands of clients over nearly two decades, my firm has found that a vast majority of companies fire people for cause without proper justification, including in situations where employees punch into work late. Our team is often able to have the firing reclassified from for cause to without cause and get our clients appropriate severance packages.

That is why it’s important to talk to an employment lawyer, like the ones at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, immediately after you lose your job. We can review all aspects of your employment to find out if you were let go for the right reasons, how much compensation you should receive and how we can get it for you.


Have questions about being fired for showing up late to work? Wondering if a firing for cause was justified?

Contact the firm or call 1-855-821-5900 to secure assistance from an employment lawyer in Ontario, Alberta or British Columbia. Get the advice you need — and the compensation you deserve.

Lior Samfiru is an employment lawyer and partner at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, Canada’s most positively reviewed law firm specializing in employment law and long-term disability claims. He provides free advice as the host of Canada’s only Employment Law Show on TV and radio.

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