Want to know if it’s okay to fire someone over the phone? There’s little doubt that the job market in regions across Canada today can be a confusing and disheartening place, especially if you’ve just been fired or laid off.
The COVID-19 pandemic unleashed a wave of job losses as public health orders closed a vast swath of businesses and constrained day-to-day economic activity that supports so many people, from waiters to baristas to taxi drivers among many others.
Whether you worked in a restaurant or a bar or a fitness facility, business closures saw thousands of Canadians put out of a job. Many people were “temporarily” laid off, but it soon became clear that the pandemic wasn’t ending anytime soon, so a lot of those temporary job losses became permanent, with a lot of employers failing to live up to their obligations to workers they kicked to the curb.
With physical office spaces closed and many companies switching to work-from-home models, it meant that meetings and collaborations were no longer done face-to-face in person, but over video chats like Zoom and Teams, or over the phone.
Firing Someone Over The Phone
For human resources departments tasked with trimming companies’ workforces due to depressed pandemic-era profits, firing people over the phone may have become the norm by necessity perhaps, despite the impersonal nature of communication by phone. For long-term employees who dedicated much of their professional lives to a company, getting fired over the phone could only add to the sting of getting terminated and put out of a job that was likely part of their identity and closely tied to their sense of purpose and self-worth.
If you’re one of those unfortunate folks who found themselves out of a job, it’s likely you’re dazed and confused and pondering what to do next. As well, you’re likely full of questions and wondering if it is even legal to fire someone over the phone in Canada.
The answer to that question is contradictorily simple and complicated, but the simple answer is, unfortunately, yes. There’s no law specifically stating that firing an employee over the phone is illegal in Canada, but the complications, legally speaking, arise if the manner of the dismissal is particularly callous, high-handed, or done in bad faith.
Can I legally be fired over the phone in Canada?
Employers have many different options when it comes to terminating employees in Canada, and whether it’s done face-to-face, over the phone, or via text or email, the legality of the termination depends on many factors. Are you an employee or an independent contractor? Are you employed by a business where the workforce is unionized? Does your employment contract contain any provisions about termination or dismissal with or without cause?
After losing your job, it’s likely you have many questions about your legal rights and what you should do next, especially if you feel you’ve been wrongfully fired in a way that causes emotional distress. If that’s the case, ClearWay can connect you with an employment lawyer who can explain your legal rights and assess whether you have a case for wrongful dismissal against your former workplace.
If you are wondering whether it’s legal to fire someone over the phone in Canada, ClearWay can put you in touch with a legal specialist to answer all your questions and help you plan your next move. That could involve demand letters or even a lawsuit if the employer fired you in a humiliating or reckless way, including if you were fired over the phone.
While there’s no law against it, employers are still obligated to comply with provincial or federal employment standards, and years of legal precedents in Canada mean that wrongfully fired employees can seek recourse and justice through the court system if they feel they’ve been wrongfully terminated.
Provincial Employment Standards v. Federal Employment Standards (Canada Labour Code)
Most workers are covered by provincial employment standards regulations, though some industries fall under the federal government’s powers in Canada. But generally, if you work any number of hours for a wage, whether you’re being trained or even on leave or temporarily laid off, you’re an “employee” covered by provincial employment standards legislation. In B.C., where employment relationships are governed by the Employment Standards Act, workers who are fired without cause are entitled to notice or pay in lieu of notice.
But it’s important to note that independent contractors are not covered by provincial employment standards. According to British Columbia’s Peoples’ Law School, figuring out the difference between “employees” and independent contractors “can be tricky.”
The topic of direction and control is important … Independent contractors are less controlled by the employer. A contractor would be more likely to set their own hours, determine how to perform the work, and provide their own equipment. A contractor also shares more of the risk. They’re more likely to be financially affected than an employee if the business does well or poorly.”
Fire someone over the phone
But some employers have been caught out for classifying employees as independent contractors in a dubious fashion, usually in order to avoid payroll taxes and other obligations.
For its part, the Canada Revenue Agency also clarifies the difference between employees and independent contractors or self-employed individuals and how those different relationships trigger varying obligations on businesses.
“It is important to decide whether a worker is an employee or a self-employed individual,” The CRA’s website states. “Employment status directly affects a person’s entitlement to employment insurance (EI) benefits under the Employment Insurance Act. It can also have an impact on how a worker is treated under other legislation such as the Canada Pension Plan and the Income Tax Act.
The facts of the working relationship as a whole decide the employment status.”
Canada Labour Code
For Canadians working in industries that are federally regulated employees, the Canada Labour Code applies and sets out its own notice and severance requirements similar to those in provincial employment standards legislation. Employers under the federal labour code must give workers at least two weeks of notice in writing of their firing. If that notice isn’t given, then the employee must be paid two weeks wages.
However, not all fired workers are entitled to notice and severance. Federally regulated workers under the Canada Labour Code aren’t entitled to notice or severance if they’ve got less than three months on the job, if they quit, if they’re fired for good reason or “just cause,” or if a fixed-term employment contract comes to an end.
Also, employees who are laid off aren’t necessarily considered “terminated” under the code automatically. If they’re laid off during a strike or lockout, or if the lay-off only lasts a few months, then they won’t be considered fired and entitled to notice and severance under the Canada Labour Code, with some exceptions.
Fire someone over the phone in Canada
On its website, Employment and Social Development Canada lays out certain conditions where lay-offs are considered “terminations.” If the employer, for example, is unable to recall an employee from a temporary lay-off, then “the lay-off becomes a termination of employment, and the employer must pay severance pay to the employee. In addition, if written notice of termination of employment was not provided, pay in lieu of notice must be paid.”
In addition, if a worker doesn’t come back to work after being recalled, then they are considered under the Code to have quit, meaning they’re not entitled to severance or termination pay.
Wrongful Dismissal in Canada Legal Precedents
In Canada, one of the most cited legal precedents in employment law is a case known as Wallace v. United Grain Growers Ltd., which was decided by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1997. The Supreme Court’s decision came almost 10 years after a man named Jack Wallace sued his former employer in Manitoba for wrongful dismissal.
The company, United Grain Growers, had a subsidiary that was looking to expand its commercial printing operations and needed someone with experience with a specialized press. They tapped Wallace, who had been working with a competitor for more than two decades, for the job in 1972 and he later became a top salesman at the firm. But then in 1986 the company fired him “without explanation.”
Wallace sued the company and claimed he’d been “ostracized” from the printing industry even after years in the business, and he’d only took the job with United Grain’s subsidiary on assurances that he’d have a job until he was 65 years old. The case wound its way through the provincial court system in Manitoba, and after appeals, eventually ended up in front of the Supreme Court of Canada.
Notably, the company originally claimed in its defence against Wallace that he’d been fired for cause, but United dropped that claim when the trial started. Ultimately, the Supreme Court sided with Wallace, upholding a trial judge’s decision to award $15,000 in compensation for damages for mental distress and the “loss of reputation and prestige” he suffered after being fired. The Supreme Court noticed that the lower court found that it “was the dismissal and events following thereafter that were mostly responsible for the mental anguish suffered by Mr. Wallace.”
Good faith at the time of dismissal
The lower court had found that United Grain Growers had fired Wallace “in an abrupt manner after having complimented him numerous times prior to the dismissal,” adding that the company’s “decision to play hardball with Mr. Wallace by maintaining completely unfounded allegations of just cause up until the start of the trial which resulted in Mr. Wallace being essentially ostracized from the printing business.”
It’s by this standard that courts judge the actions of employers when firing workers. While they can be found to have acted in bad faith, the conduct has to be particularly egregious to warrant damages awards as a means of punishment.
Employment Law and Wrongful Dismissal in Canada
Workers who feel they’ve been wrongfully terminated from their job should seek legal advice as soon as they can. At ClearWay, we can connect you with a lawyer who can advise you on your legal options and provide detailed recommendations depending on the circumstances of your case. If you’ve been fired over the phone in Canada, it might not have been expressly illegal, but that doesn’t mean that a court will not consider the conduct should a wrongful dismissal claim make it to trial, as it did for Jack Wallace a quarter of a century ago.
So if you’ve been fired over the phone by your employer in Canada, or by email or text or even face-to-face, contact ClearWay. We can put you in touch with an experienced employment lawyer. Hopefully, after listening to your story, they’ll be able tell you if being fired over the phone would lead a court to award damages when taken in context with the former employee’s specific situation. After being fired over the phone in Canada, you may feel it was disrespectful and unprofessional.
Fire someone over the phone conclusion
At ClearWay, we can help put you in touch with a lawyer who will treat you with the respect and professionalism you deserve, and if they’re right for the job, they can likely help you fight back against your former employer – in court if necessary – to get you the compensation you also deserve.
We hope you enjoyed learning about if it’s legal to fire someone over the phone in Canada.