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Definitions: Just Cause

Where an employee is guilty of serious misconduct or incompetence, the employer may dismiss the employee for ‘just cause’ (also commonly referred to as dismissal ‘for cause’). An employee dismissed for just cause is not generally entitled to any advance notice or pay in lieu of notice for the dismissal.

In determining whether just cause exists, the question is whether the employee’s behaviour is such that the employment relationship can no longer viably continue, taking the surrounding circumstances into consideration.1 An employer that wishes to establish that there is just cause has a heavy onus.2 There must be significant conduct or performance issues to warrant a dismissal for just cause:3

It is conduct that goes to the “root” of the employment contract and, therefore, fractures the employment relationship in such a way that the employer cannot be expected to provide the employee with a second chance.

A single act from an employee can amount to just cause only if it is sufficiently egregious.4 Usually, however, an employer is obliged to consider whether lesser disciplinary measures would be sufficient.5

Examples of behaviour that can, in appropriate circumstances, warrant dismissal for just cause include:

  • Harassment;6
  • Dishonesty; 7
  • Insolence;8
  • Disobedience;9
  • Gross incompetence;10

Occasionally an employee’s behaviour outside of the workplace may justify an employee’s dismissal if the employee’s actions are likely to be prejudicial to the employer’s business.11

  1. McKinley v BC Tel, 2001 SCC 38 at para 29 []
  2. Staley v. Squirrel Systems of Canada, Ltd, 2013 BCCA 201 at para 19 []
  3. Chapple v Big Bay Landing Ltd. (Inc. No. 0764163), 2018 BCSC 1666 at para 13 []
  4. Steel v Coast Capital Savings Credit Union, 2015 BCCA 127 at para 27 []
  5. George v Cowichan Tribes, 2015 BCSC 513 at para 115 []
  6. Smith v Vauxhall Co-Op Petroleum Limited, 2017 ABQB 525 []
  7. McKinley v. BC Tel, 2001 SCC 38 []
  8. Rysstad v. Dependable Turbines Ltd., 2007 BCSC 474 []
  9. Panton v Everywoman’s Health Centre Society (1988), 2000 BCCA 621 []
  10. Renwick v. MacMillan Bloedel Ltd., 1995 CanLII 1487 (BC SC) []
  11. Smith v. Kamloops and District Elizabeth Fry Society, 1996 CanLII 2897 (BC CA) []