Cause for termination means that the employer has a sufficient reason to end the employment contract without giving the employee advanced notice or pay in lieu. This is also known as “just cause”.
Employers generally have an obligation to give notice of termination, but not if there is just cause.
Examples of cause
An employer can terminate for cause when the employee has committed serious misconduct, shown habitual neglect of duty, or is incompetent to discharge their duties (among other reasons). Some common bases for cause allegations are insubordination, dishonesty, absenteeism and lateness, harassment or workplace violence, or persistent substandard job performance. When cause is related to misconduct, the employee’s actions amount to a repudiation of the contract or evince an intention to no longer be bound.
A high bar
The standard for proving cause is high. There are a number of ways that cause allegations can be challenged. For example, an employer may be prevented from relying on cause if the conduct was condoned in the past or was permitted when done by others. Cause allegations may also be unsuccessful if the misconduct or incompetence was related to a disability that required accommodation under human rights legislation.
Employers: Allege cause for just cause, not just because
Employers who allege cause for termination as a tactic to avoid paying severance or gain an advantage in severance negotiations could open themselves up to expanded liability. Courts have sometimes tried to discourage such tactics by awarding punitive or aggravated damages for bad faith conduct, as well as elevated costs awards in the employee’s favour.