The End of the Road: Understanding Employment Termination

George Costanza, on an episode of Seinfeld, dramatically quit his job during a meeting. Regretting his impulsive decision, he decides to act like it never happened and simply shows up to work the next day. As was often the case, things went badly for George and he did not get his job back.

Employment disputes can be very tricky to deal with because our work is a fundamental part of our identity. Not to mention that jobs are how we put food on the table and a roof over our head. To make matters worse, there are plenty of myths, out of context advice, and some just plain wrong information floating around out there.

In Nova Scotia, the Labour Standards Code sets out the rules that govern the relationship between employers and employees. Be aware if there are employment contracts or unions involved as they can greatly impact the rules. The Labour Standards Code applies when there is no other contract.

So what happens when someone quits or is fired? As with many legal questions, the answer starts with “it depends…”  In this case, “it depends” on how long a person has been working for that employer.

In Nova Scotia, an employer can fire an employee without a reason unless they have been employed for over 10 years. After 10 years they can only be fired with just cause. Just cause means the employee is being fired due to their performance or behaviour. It is generally either one big problem (theft, refusing orders etc.), or a series of smaller problems that the employee has been given an opportunity to correct. If you fire an employee who is habitually late, you must be able to show that you have notified them of the problem, and the employee was given a chance to improve. Having a record of escalating discipline is important in these situations. For example, if an employee has only been given written warnings, you may not be able to fire them without notice. 

The general rule is that the longer a person has been working in a job, the longer the notice period is required. When an employee is fired for a reason, no notice period is required.

When the employer terminates

 Years of employment                                            notice required

Less than 3 months                                                 None

Over 3 months, less than 2 years                            1 week

2-5 years                                                                  2 weeks

5-10 years                                                                4 weeks

Over 10 years                                                          8 weeks


When the employee terminates

Years of employment                                            notice required

Less than 3 months                                                None

Less than 2 years                                                    1 week

More than 2 years                                                  2 weeks


Pay in lieu of notice

Employers have the option of paying the regular wages of an employee equal to the notice period. In many cases, an employer will pay out an employee because they do not want a employee to continue working once they have been fired, especially if they deal directly wth your customers. After a worker has been fired, they may not be the best worker since they have little to lose. It is unlikely they will ask for a reference from a job where they were fired.


Tips for employers

  • Make sure you have a clear discipline policy, and record all disciplinary letters or warnings.

  • If you need to fire an employee, put it in writing!

  • After an employee gives notice you cannot cut back their hours or hold back their pay.

  • You can provide pay in lieu of notice.

  • Notice is not required if an employee is fired for just cause.


Tips for employees

  • If you quit, put it in writing and provide proper notice.

  • Even if your workplace has become toxic, try to remain professional and leave on a good note.

  • If you have a disagreement with your boss and you quit, or get fired for just cause, you are not entitled to any severance pay.

Employment law is a complex area of law. In addition to the Labour Standards Code, there is human rights legislation, unions, workers’ compensation and other areas of law which can effect employment. You should speak with a lawyer to get comprehensive advice before you make any legal decisions.

Do you have an employment situation you need help with? Are you unsure of your rights and obligations? Call the law firm of Highlander Law Group at (902) 826-3070 to set up a no obligation Issue Review Consultation with one of our lawyers at our Tantallon office (just outside of Halifax, Nova Scotia). They will work with you to identify options and help you develop a plan to move forward.

By: Dianna M. Rievaj, MBA, LLB - Founding Lawyer

The information and materials on this blog are provided for general informational purposes only and are not intended to be legal advice. Nothing contained on this blog is legal advice or constitutes a legal opinion. While it is our goal to provide information which is current, legislative changes and court decisions, among other matters, may result in some information no longer being current or accurate. You should consult a lawyer before relying on any information. The views expressed herein by individual contributing lawyers posting entries to the blog are solely those of the authors and should not necessarily be attributed to or considered representative of the firm of Highlander Law Group Lawyers