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Why Do You Need an Employment Lawyer?

By February 10, 2019 July 19th, 2019 No Comments

Many employees know only the legal basics when it comes to job loss and what they might be entitled to if they did, in fact, lose their job.  One might be vaguely familiar with the concept of a ‘severance package’, or understand that being terminated ‘for cause’ is a mess to be avoided.  In my experience, many know much less than even this – and, of course, this is only the very tip of the iceberg. The reality is that many employees ultimately pay the price for not knowing when to stand up to their employer and assert their rights.  And the price they pay can be substantial.

So, why do you need an Employment Lawyer?

The short answer is this: we know the law, and knowing the law is what keeps you or your loved ones from losing what you are legally entitled to.  We make sure you understand what you are owed, and act as your agent in ensuring that you get it. In the context of employment law, your legal entitlements typically come in the form of continued income, maintaining benefit coverage, and the like, but there is certainly much more to the practice than that.  In the following short article, I will endeavor to answer our question, and a bit more fully, by way of outlining some of the basic services that we, as employment lawyers, provide for our clients.

Wrongful Dismissal

The most common matters that clients bring through the door relate to wrongful dismissal.  Someone has lost their job and is unsure of how to move forward. Have they been treated unfairly?  Can they just be fired like that? Are they being bought off cheap? Often they’ve been handed a termination letter and/or have been offered a ‘severance package’.  In exchange for your acceptance of the severance package, the employer simply wants you to sign a release form. Nothing to worry abou–

This is the point at which, in a perfect world, a suitably miniaturized lawyer would appear on your shoulder to guide you.  But alas. Jokes aside, though, there may be a lot at stake, and you’d be wise to get some sound legal advice before agreeing to anything.  The release being sought by your former employer is essentially a contract to prevent you from suing them in the future, on the basis that you agree that what you’ve received is all that you are owed.  That, of course, may not be at all the case.

A good lawyer will review what’s offered against what you are likely owed, and put forth a road map that leads to a satisfactory outcome.  That will require a review of the employment contract, if one exists, and the offered severance package. It may require challenging the validity and enforceability of termination clauses that claim to limit your entitlements to legal minimums.  If your employer seeks to terminate you for cause, without legal justification for doing so, you may seek to challenge that decision and thereby pursue the termination pay, severance pay, benefits continuance, or reasonable notice pay (and perhaps, Employment Insurance (EI)) you would otherwise stand to lose.  If discriminatory or elsewise wrongful treatment is in the mix, there might be further compensation owed.

These legal matters, among many others we explore, are frequently misunderstood or simply unknown to employees.  That’s why a good lawyer at your side can prove to be an extremely valuable asset. Losing a job can be a painful, life-altering experience.  Speaking to a lawyer ensures you are not taken advantage of in the process.

Employment Contract Review and Negotiation

Some clients – though I wish this were more common – have the wherewithal to approach us even before they start a new job. Perhaps they’ve been burned by a previous employment experience, or perhaps they’ve read a blog or two on the topic.  Whatever the reason, I commend their decision. A little work now can save a lot of trouble down the line.

The employment contract is fundamentally important to any employee.  If valid, this contract governs the terms of your relationship with your employer, including everything from hours, to pay, to benefits, to what you will be entitled to (or not!) upon termination.  Note: These contracts also typically contain a provision that ensure that it alone governs the employer-employee relationship, meaning that if you intend to rely upon a promise made to you in person, but not represented in the contract, you might not have a legal leg to stand on.

Like most contracts, there’s a lot in your average employment contract that can read like a foreign language.  Yet, despite its vital importance, many employees barely bother to read the contract. Fortunately, lawyers are well-trained to make sense of it all, and to make sure that you don’t sign yourself up for uncertainty, unfairness, or future misery.  Whether you’d like someone to simply review and explain the agreement to you, or to take on negotiations for you, no one is better prepared than a qualified employment lawyer.

Constructive Dismissal  

There are a million ways that a job can become unbearable for an employee.  The temptation to simply walk out can be overwhelming. However, if that employee decides to simply resign, they will generally speaking relinquish their entitlement to income and benefits continuance, among other legal rights.  That can be a harsh blow, financially and otherwise. As many will know, however, if an employee is terminated without cause they will retain those entitlements.

Yet, if your job is more than you can tolerate, waiting for a potential termination likely won’t do.  Deliberately trying to get fired is also very risky, not least because it can result in a for-cause termination, which disentitles one in much the same way that a resignation does

(and can also seriously damage one’s reputation and career prospects).  Fortunately, one does not always need to be fired, technically speaking, in order to end the employment relationship while maintaining rights to termination pay, severance, or reasonable notice, etc.  This can be achieved through a successful claim for constructive dismissal.

Constructive dismissal simply means that the employee claims to have been (‘constructively’) dismissed, and thus effectively resigns while insisting on the rights that follow a without-cause termination.  To succeed, however, that constructive dismissal claim must be legally justified in terms of the employer’s conduct. This can be done, for example, by referencing unilateral changes made by the employer to the fundamental terms of the employment contract, or by reference to a toxic work environment.  Harassment often looms large. Any such claims must be carefully assessed on a case by case basis, but the courts have made it clear that an employee is entitled to be treated with civility, dignity, decency and respect. If you don’t feel your employer is living up to that standard, it may be time to talk to an employment lawyer.

Conclusion

While hopefully of some assistance, the above barely scratches the surface in terms of what an employment lawyer can do for you or for your loved ones.  I touched on some common issues, but left much out. We can also assist you if you face unaddressed safety issues at work, if your union isn’t standing up for you, if you’ve been left unpaid, if you think you’re an employee rather than independent contractor, if you’ve been harassed or bullied at work, and in countless other situations.  Indeed, the legal problems clients face are as unique as they are. Each deserves expert attention.

The central takeaway? Before you act, ask a professional.  If you or someone you know is dealing with any employment law issues, I strongly encourage you to speak to an expert.  There might be more at stake than you realize.

At Tailor Law, our employment lawyers are ready to go to bat for you, and will do whatever is required to ensure an efficient, economical, and satisfying outcome.  To schedule a free in-person or phone consultation, please call us at 905-366-0202, or email Chelsea at admin@tailorlaw.com.

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