What Is Wrongful Termination? (Definition and Examples)

Updated September 14, 2022

Termination from any job can be stressful under normal circumstances, and it's even more so when the termination is unjust. For example, employers who terminate you without cause, notice, or severance pay may be doing so unjustly. Understanding wrongful termination empowers you, giving you the knowledge of your rights in the workplace. In this article, we define what is wrongful termination with examples and explain what you can do if you believe your employer fired you unjustly.

Related: How To Fire Someone Professional and What To Avoid

What is wrongful termination?

Wrongful termination, also known as wrongful dismissal or discharge, is when an employer fires an employee in a way that violates company policy or regulations. This typically means the employee is fired without enough notice, a just cause, or the correct severance pay.

Related: What Is Severance Pay in Canada?

Reasons for wrongful termination

There are many types of wrongful termination, so consider the following examples to help you determine if you've been wrongfully terminated:

Breach of contract

On your first day, you likely received an employment contract outlining the terms of your new role. This contract usually includes policies both you and your employer need to follow. If your employer violates any of the terms in your contract when firing you, it could be considered wrongful termination. For example, if your contract states your employer can only fire you after a verbal and a written warning, but you only received a verbal warning, this is a breach of your contract and wrongful termination.

Related: What Is an Employment Contract?


Verbal or physical harassment in the workplace creates a hostile environment. It can be acts such as unwelcome advances or insulting comments from your colleagues or managers. If you reported this harassment and were fired for it or encouraged to quit, you may have been wrongfully terminated.


There are strict laws in place to prevent discrimination at work. These laws include discrimination against anyone based on their age, gender, race, disability, religion, or sexual preference. So, if your employer fired you for discriminatory reasons, it may be considered wrongful termination. An example of this is your employer firing you because they think you're too old to work.

Related: How To Talk About Race, Gender and Social Issues at Work


If an employee does something their employer doesn't like, such as report illegal behaviour at work, the employer may fire said employee as a form of revenge. This is considered wrongful termination as Canada's Criminal Code states employers cannot take disciplinary action against employees that report information regarding an offence they believe the employer committed.

Violation of federal, provincial, or territorial laws

Employers must follow many labour laws, such as giving eligible employees maternity leave or overtime pay when appropriate. If an employer violates any of these laws, it could be considered wrongful termination. Check the Government of Canada's website to help you understand the federal labour standards employers must adhere to in the workplace.

Committing illegal acts

If your employer asks you to commit illegal acts, such as accepting cash payments so they can avoid paying taxes, you have the right to refuse. Illegal acts include participating in discriminatory behaviour, or any other activities that are questionable or outside the job scope. If an employer retaliates by firing an employee for refusing to commit an illegal act, it may be considered wrongful termination.

Related: Common Reasons for Leaving a Job and How To Explain Them

What to do about wrongful termination

If you feel you have been wrongfully terminated, you can file a complaint at any Labour Program office near you. It must be within 90 days of your termination and include all the details of your dismissal and why you think it was unjust. Include it in your complaint if you have any evidence, such as written communications that show discrimination or harassment. You can file the complaint yourself or hire a lawyer to complete the process for you.

The labour board can investigate your claim and decide what to do. Often, employers are willing to negotiate with employees to keep the dispute out of court. If this happens, ensure you bring a lawyer with you to negotiate terms.

Related: How to Terminate an Employee Professionally

Tips for handling a wrongful termination

To help you handle wrongful termination, consider the following tips:

  • First, review your contract: Reviewing your contract allows you to determine whether your employer breached any of the terms in your contract. If they did, this is great evidence for your formal complaint.

  • Ask for a written dismissal statement: If you feel like you have been unjustly dismissed, you can request a statement from your employer outlining the reasons they terminated you. Your employer then must provide a formal written statement detailing your termination within 15 days of your request. A written statement may help you clarify whether you've been wrongfully terminated or act as evidence in your claim.

  • Consult with the human resources department: Even if you were fired, you could still talk to the human resources department at your company. They can tell you more about the termination process and any benefits you may be entitled to.

  • Proceed cautiously: If you are pursuing legal action against your employer, it's best to avoid talking about your situation. An employer or their lawyer may use an ex-employee speaking about the situation as evidence against them. Unless you're talking to your lawyer, it's best to avoid discussing the case at all.

  • Seek the help of an attorney: You may want to consider talking to or hiring a labour attorney to help you determine whether you were wrongfully terminated. They have in-depth knowledge about federal, provincial, and/or territorial laws so they can offer you tailored advice. A labour attorney can also help you understand your options if you're considering pursuing legal action against your employer.

Frequently asked questions about wrongful termination

To further help you understand wrongful termination, consider the following answers to frequently asked questions you may have:

What is the difference between wrongful dismissal and constructive dismissal?

Wrongful termination and constructive dismissal are similar, but an employee is not let go with constructive dismissal. Instead, the employer changes the employee's contract to try to influence them to quit. Demoting the employee, giving them a pay cut, drastically changing their schedule, or moving the work location are all examples of constructive dismissal.

Can I get employment insurance if I was wrongfully terminated?

When you apply for employment insurance, you must include the reason you're applying for benefits. Explaining your reasons helps the employment insurance staff determine whether you're eligible. Often, people fired for misconduct are not eligible for employment insurance, but you can call Service Canada to discuss your specific case. Receiving employment insurance can offer you financial support while you're filing your formal complaint and looking for a new job.

What is just cause for dismissal?

You may be confused about the reasons your employer fired you. To help you determine if it was wrongful termination or if your employer had just cause, consider the following examples of just causes for dismissal:

  • an employee who didn't perform their job duties properly

  • an employee who was insubordinate

  • an employee who committed theft

  • an employee who was consistently late or absent

  • an employee who committed acts of violence against customers or colleagues

  • an employee who was dishonest

  • an employee who harassed or discriminated against colleagues or customers

Can I look for a new job if I was wrongfully terminated?

Yes, you can look for a new job if you were wrongfully terminated or think your employer is planning to terminate you. When interviewing for new positions, prospective employers may ask you why you left your previous job. You can briefly explain that you were terminated and why you think the termination was wrongful. Emphasize that the previous termination won't affect your work at your new job.

Can my employer fire me for reporting harassment at work?

Reporting misconduct, such as harassment, is often referred to as whistleblowing. Canada's Criminal Code states that it is a criminal offence for employers to take disciplinary action against a whistleblower. This means if you reported harassment at work and your employer fired you, you may have been wrongfully terminated.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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