According to 2020 research, money (38%) is the number one cause of stress for Canadians by a large margin, followed by personal health (25%), work (21%) and relationships (16%). Four-in-10 Canadians say the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their financial stress levels, leaving millions to grapple with the repercussions of job loss, reduced hours and market volatility.1
For those who have lost their jobs in the pandemic, and for those whose jobs have been lost in a sector that may not fully recover, it’s important to take proactive measures when faced with the financial instability of sudden unemployment. Consulting with an employment lawyer can help.
I’ve been helping employees of non-unionized workplaces get the severance packages they legally deserve for over 25 years. Obtaining legal advice is even more important now with the changing landscape of employment laws during 2020.
Over time, no matter the circumstances, I have found that there are certain well-intentioned but mistaken behaviours that can hinder a non-unionized employee when they lose their job. Here are six of them – and how to avoid them:
- Accepting the first severance offer. Many people don’t like to negotiate (which is fine, and why negotiating can be outsourced), or they assume that there is no ability to do so (that the first offer is final), or that it will necessarily involve a long, expensive lawsuit (it usually doesn’t, in my experience). Usually, the first offer is not final, but it is useful to know how much room to negotiate there might be – without litigation – to ensure you are not leaving anything on the table. A consultation with an employment lawyer can give you this missing information, even if you ultimately decide not to hire them to negotiate on your behalf.
- Trying to negotiate without a lawyer (if you can afford one; there are options if you think you cannot). While legal advice is recommended, actually hiring a lawyer to apply their advice and negotiate on your behalf is ideal. What I have found over the years is that employers (including their HR professionals and lawyers) will usually agree to a higher settlement where the employee is represented by a skilled lawyer, than when they are not (also there are exceptions, such as when the employee is an HR professional or lawyer). As well, many people who think they cannot afford a lawyer can often take advantage of fee arrangements offered by many legal professionals (and knowledgeable paralegals) such as lower rates offered by newer lawyers, paralegals or professionals with low overhead, deferred fees, contingency fees and fixed fees. As well, in some cases, the employee may qualify for free help from a neighbourhood legal aid clinic.
- Not assembling a “team” of experts (if you can afford them – but you may be able to afford them). To get through a trying termination and make wise decisions about your present and future, assembling a team of experts is key. Lawyers are limited to providing legal services, and a stressful situation likes job loss usually demands at least a few more professionals, if you can afford them, although some of them will provide services to you without it costing you directly depending on your situation because they are covered by government or group insurance, there is no additional charge for existing or prospective clients, or part or all of their cost can be covered by your settlement. For example: Your family doctor, a therapist, your financial planner and accountant, and a coach (especially if your employer is prepared to pay all or part of a coach’s services). It takes a team to take a negative and turn it into a positive.
- Wanting to get even with or teach a lesson to your employer by litigation. Your identity is deeply embedded with what you do. Losing one’s job can feel like you are losing a piece of yourself or a lot like being rejected by a romantic partner. This leads to feelings of hurt, betrayal and even anger. Yet this hinders the rational decision-making that is so necessary if you want your lawyer to get you a fair result. It can lead to poor choices, like unnecessarily engaging in expensive and risky litigation, or staying in it longer than you should because you think it will teach your employer a lesson (sorry, but it won’t). It’s okay to feel hurt, betrayed and angry, but it’s not okay to let those feelings fuel your legal (or any other) strategy. Challenge yourself to rise above it. This is the one reason why I recommend assembling a team of experts (including a therapist) to help you do so.
- Getting stuck on the number of months (beware the one-month-for-every-year-of-service ‘rule’). Just because you heard that your second cousin’s sister-in-law received a 24-month pay in lieu of notice package from a different employer a few years ago doesn’t mean that is what you are entitled to from employer today. Every case is different, and you probably don’t know all of the settlement terms anyway (and nor should you because settlement packages are typically confidential). Not only do things like “lump sum” payments as compared to a “salary continuance subject to mitigation” (a reduction if you earn money from a new job) matter when assessing whether the employee is receiving the proper number of months of severance, but the rest of the package matters too. For example, was there any employer contribution to the employee’s legal expenses? Were benefits continued for a certain length of time?, etc. On top of that, the amount of severance legally owing that is not etched in stone and is dependent on many factors. My advice regarding mistakes 1 and 2 above is probably making more sense now.
- Not getting legal advice for job offers or employment contracts at the front end. One of the factors affecting a severance entitlement is what is stated in an enforceable termination provision in an employment. This is why it is so important to obtain legal advice at the time of hire and before an offer or contract is signed back as you can learn what should be changed and the employer may agree to change it before it is too late. However, the law is always evolving, and an experienced employment lawyer will know if the termination provision that lowers your severance entitlements is actually legally valid, so it is best not to make assumptions. See my related blog on termination clauses. The same lawyer can also help you with your next job offer so you don’t find yourself in the same predicament. Unfortunately, termination clauses are becoming more common, and there is no such thing as a “standard” employment contract or offer letter that anyone should just sign because it was presented to them.
Being fired from your job is such a disruptive life event fraught with unknowns and instability. Hopefully, the tips I’ve outlined here can help you take the actions you need to bounce back, and move you forward to better opportunities and more exciting next chapters. I would welcome the opportunity to assist you get the settlement you deserve.
This blog is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal or other professional advice.