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THE QUESTION

I have worked 35 years as a drafting designer, am 59 years old, and just returned to work from disability leave.

Upon my return, my firm gave me two choices:

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  • Go on leave without pay until the firm lands another job and, if and when they do, my salary could be reduced. Based on the grim market in Alberta, I could be waiting up to a year, with only health benefits.
  • Accept a severance package of 35 weeks at full salary including benefits plus a one-time amount equivalent to a 17-week payout.

What should I expect, in a slim employment market?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Shane King

Partner, litigation & dispute resolution group, McLeod Law LLP, Calgary

Please be aware that employment law is very nuanced, and what you are asking is extremely specific. Thus, my answer can only be big-picture and I strongly recommend you seek legal advice. If you have a written employment contract, the terms will govern the termination, assuming it was entered into fairly and it does not contradict the Employment Standards Code. If you do not have an employment contract then the Employment Standards Code will apply, and initially, based upon your tenure, your employer must provide you with eight weeks' pay in lieu of notice.

The next stage is to determine the remainder of your severance and for that we turn to the common law which is based upon thousands of cases over the years. In determining the proper severance that would be owing, the court would take into account a myriad of factors including your age, seniority, position and, generally most important, your tenure.

Often, but not always, the court may start using a "rule of thumb" and award in the range of one month of notice for every year of service. In practice, this can fall in the range of two to four weeks per year depending upon the tenure. However, you should know that it is extremely rare for an employee to be awarded more than 24 months notice or pay in lieu of notice.

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The point of severance is to bridge the employee to his or her new job. Thus, if you are able to secure commensurate replacement employment within one year, then their offer of a total of 52 weeks may be fair. If you are not able to do so, then it might be considered too low.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Colleen Clarke

Corporate trainer and career specialist, Toronto

As a displaced Albertan, I am very aware of the market in Calgary. Sitting around under Option No. 1 is not really an option. That leaves No. 2.

Hire a career specialist to work with you on identifying your transferable skills and strengths. Start doing research on other industries or markets that could utilize your existing skill set. Be clear on what you want and need, before you ask people for help. Never blatantly ask for a job from anyone. Consider teaching, consulting, tutoring and mentoring. Build your network through LinkedIn profiles of like-mnded professionals from around the world. Research what others with your skills or hidden talents have done when they encountered change. Talk to people who do what you would like to do. Get out and meet folks from diversified industries, you never know who knows who.

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