Doing business in Canada, you know that each province has its own employment and labour laws. In light of current economic realities, many employers have been forced to downsize and regrettably relieve many employees of their duties. What those employees are entitled to will depend on their province. Quebec is often viewed as the province with the most employee-friendly legislation. But that reputation may be unearned, at least in some respects.

Minimum Standards

All provinces require employers to provide employees with written notice of termination of employment. A wave of the hand will not suffice. In addition, all provinces have established minimum notice periods which depend on the number of years an employee has worked for his or her employer. While most provinces require a minimum of 1 week notice for an employee who has been employed for at least 3 months but less than 1 year, the provinces have all established different notice periods for employees who have been continuously employed for more than 1 year.

Minimum Notice of Termination – Quebec

Quebec’s An Act Respecting Labour Standards states that, upon termination (without cause) a minimum notice period of:

  • 2 weeks is required if the employee’s period of employment is 1 year to less than 5 years;
  • 4 weeks is required if the employee’s period of employment is 5 to less than 10 years; and
  • 8 weeks is required for a period of employment of 10 years or more.

A different and more generous set of rules apply in the event of collective dismissal. Under Quebec law, the termination of not fewer than 10 employees at the same establishment in the course of 2 consecutive months constitutes a collective dismissal. In this case, different notice periods apply:  

  • 8 weeks for 10 to 99 employees;  
  • 12 weeks for 100 to 299 employees; and  
  • 16 weeks for 300 or more employees.

In such circumstances, the employer must also give to each affected employee an individual notice of termination. Both the individual and the collective notice of termination may be given simultaneously. When an employer fails to give the collective notice, he must pay to each dismissed employee an indemnity equal to the time period (or remainder of the time period) within which the employer was required to give notice. However, an employee may not cumulate both the indemnities provided by the individual and the collective notice. He is only entitled to the greater of the two.

How do Other Provinces Compare?

While Nova Scotia’s notice periods are similar to those in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia require a minimum notice period of 2 weeks if the employee’s period of employment is 1 year to fewer than 3 years. Thereafter, 3 weeks notice is required for more than 3 but fewer than 4 years service. And so on to a maximum of 8 weeks. As in Quebec, pay in lieu of notice is an alternative to notice.

Unlike all other provinces, Manitoba law specifies that 1 week notice is required if an employee has worked for at least 30 days but less than 1 year.

Thereafter, employees are entitled to:

  • 2 weeks for 1 year to less than 3 years;
  • 4 weeks for 3 to less than 5 years;
  • 6 weeks for 5 to less than 10 years; and
  • 8 weeks for 10 or more years.

When compared to Quebec’s individual notice periods, Manitoba, Ontario and British Columbia offer their employees greater protection. New Brunswick, on the other hand, is less generous – its individual notice periods top out at 4 weeks notice for employees with 5 or more years of service.

Although the notice periods required by most provinces appear to offer greater protection to employees who have been individually terminated, Quebec law is more favourable in instances of collective dismissal in that it applies to groups of only ten employees, whereas the threshold is higher in other provinces.

On balance, the other provinces’ laws to assist terminated employees compare favourably with Quebec’s. There are numerous differences, however, as outlined above and employers whose work force crosses the country (particularly the Ottawa River) will need to keep a close eye on both sets of rules.

Does this Really Matter?

Of course, while important, minimum standards are only half the story. In provinces other than Quebec, common law principles may require much more than the minimum standards – employees are entitled to reasonable notice. In Quebec, while there is no common law principle of reasonable notice, the Quebec Civil Code states that either party to a contract with an indeterminate term may terminate it by giving notice in reasonable time.

So at the end of the day, employees being terminated across the country aren’t really treated all that differently. They are all to be treated “reasonably”.