Give notice before terminating a worker

Dear Working Wise: I have a problem employee.

Dear Working Wise: I have a problem employee.

She is rude to my customers, she doesn’t follow the checklist of tasks that must be done every day, she plays the VLT machines instead of serving customers and she calls in sick a lot, but only on the weekends. Is this enough to fire her for “just cause” and not pay severance? — Bothered Bar-owner

Dear Bothered: Employees have the right to quit and employers have the right to terminate employees. But these rights come with responsibilities. The most important one is providing adequate notice.

The length of notice depends on how long the employee has worked for you. In Alberta, the minimum notice required is one week for between three and 24 months of service. Employees with 24 to 48 months of service are entitled to a minimum of two weeks notice.

The notice period continues to increase with length of service. For a complete list of notice periods, visit www.employment.alberta.ca/employmentstandards and click on the Termination of Employment and Temporary Layoff fact sheet.

You can choose to give termination pay in lieu of the notice period. A combination of written notice and pay is also acceptable.

The employer must pay all wages, overtime, general holiday pay and vacation pay owed to the employee within three days following termination of employment.

There are a number of circumstances when an employer does not have to give notice or termination pay. These are circumstances of “just cause.”

Examples include wilful misconduct, like deliberately causing damage to the business; disobedience, like failure to comply with company policy; and deliberate neglect of duty, like not showing up, or leaving without permission.

All of these circumstances must be shown to be “not condoned by the employer.” Some employers have got themselves into situations when they didn’t deal with problem employees soon enough.

When an employer terminates someone for “just cause,” they need to have adequate documentation to back up the decision.

Documentation can include things like details of meetings with the employee, copies of e-mails, letters of reprimand, or time sheets showing missed hours. It should also show a record that these issues were discussed with the employee and the employee is aware of the employer’s concerns.

When an employee is terminated for cause, the employer still must pay all wages, overtime, general holiday pay and vacation pay owed to the employee within 10 days of termination.

Unfortunately, I cannot give you a definitive answer to your question. Employers who terminate employees for cause risk paying for expensive wrongful dismissal cases if they lack adequate documentation.

A lot depends on how serious the misconduct has been, how many times it has happened and how well you’ve documented it.

I highly recommend you call the Alberta Employment Standards Hotline at 1-877-427-3731 to discuss the specifics of your situation. The advisers will be able to give you a better idea how strong a case you have for terminating this employee for “just cause.”

Working Wise is compiled weekly by Charles Strachey, a regional manager with Alberta Employment and Immigration. Work-related questions can be sent to him at charles.strachey@gov.ab.ca. Working Wise is provided for general information only. Help with specific situations is available through Alberta Employment Standards by calling 1-877-427-3731.

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