Can your employer terminate you for getting a job offer?
THE FIRST ANSWER
Partner, Whitten & Lublin Employment & Labour Lawyers, Toronto.
Your employer can terminate you for any reason, including getting a job offer. Termination by itself is not illegal.
The real issue is whether your employer can terminate you for "cause," meaning without any severance, because you received a job offer.
An employer can avoid paying you severance if there is cause for dismissal due to misconduct. However, alleged misconduct must be serious and proven, not simply trivial and perceived.
In Canada, employers often have difficulty demonstrating cause for dismissal because of this high standard. Turning to your situation, looking for or even finding another job is not cause for dismissal without severance.
It could be a problem perhaps if you were doing so on company time, instead of your own time.
The only other concern for you that I could foresee is if you signed a binding non-competition clause and the job offer you received is with a direct competitor.
Even then, there is an argument that you should still receive severance.
Keep in mind that context is always considered in termination disputes. Your age, tenure and employment history are often relevant in assessing whether the employer's attempt at punishment meets the alleged crime.
THE SECOND ANSWER
Vice-president and corporate secretary, BC Transit
If you are not in a union, your employer can terminate you any time it chooses.
That does come at a cost to your employer (severance) unless they are asserting they are firing you for cause – and getting another job offer doesn't usually fall into that category.
One exception may be if you had a non-compete clause in your employment contract and your offer came from a direct competitor of your current employer.
Also, it isn't difficult to imagine them being upset if you have proprietary information that might be used to help your new employer and/or harm your current employer.
If this is not the case, I find it hard to think anything but that they are being spectacularly petty.
So much so that I am reminded of when my children were quite young and didn't get what they wanted.
In the end, it certainly seems to me that your job offer – and your employer's response to it – allows you to leave without any regret, so best of luck in the new job.
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