Terminated Without Cause – “Do I have to sign a termination letter, papers, or release?”

Samantha Kompa
Employment Law

For many, being fired is one of the most stressful things to happen during their working lives, especially if they're terminated without cause. In light of a termination, you'll likely have a lot of questions and have some decisions to make. 

One question that many ask when terminated without cause is “Should I sign the termination letter, papers, or release?” The simple takeaway is this: before signing anything, speak with an employment lawyer

If you're terminated without cause, your employer is likely to provide you with a termination package that will include:

  1. Written confirmation of your termination
  2. A monetary offer in lieu of working notice, or in combination with working notice
  3. Instructions related to your employee benefits and pension plan, if any
  4. A release

A 'release' is a document that says you won't sue your employer for issues related to your employment or its termination. 

Employers will often give employees a few days, or a week, to review the documents and sign them. This is crucial. It's in everyone's interest for you to understand what you're signing and how it will impact you.

It's at this point (after being fired but before signing anything) that you should consult a lawyer. A lawyer can help you:

  1. Determine whether your employer's offer is fair given your contract and the law
  2. Help you understand how the termination will affect your pension and benefits
  3. Determine whether there are issues that might need to be dealt with before you sign a release. For example, violations of the Human Rights Code, duty to accommodate, the Employment Standards Act, 2000, or the Occupational Health and Safety Act 
  4. Explain how signing the release will impact your rights moving forward 

If you can't speak with a lawyer before your employer's deadline to sign expires, ask them for an extension. It's not only in your interest, but theirs, that you get independent legal advice before signing

Things get complicated, messy, and upsetting if you sign without understanding the impact it will have on you. You could have got more money, or had a legitimate claim for human rights or other violations (termination during pregnancy or maternity leave for example).

If you sign a termination package and release there is normally little that can be done to get around it and sue later down the road. This is the case no matter how strong your claims might otherwise be. This is why it's best to talk to a lawyer before you sign anything. 

If you don't sign your termination letter by the employer's deadline you should receive your minimum entitlements – such as notice pay, unpaid wages, benefits, accrued but unused vacation pay – however, you will not receive the enhanced offer your employer is providing in exchange for a release.

Having said that, you should speak with a lawyer if you've signed a termination package and release but now want to sue your employer. There are some circumstances where this is still possible, but it's very fact dependent. A couple of things that may lead a court to find a release invalid are:

  1. That you signed under duress
  2. That you were not given the chance to get independent legal advice 

This list is not exhaustive. 

The best approach is to speak with an employment lawyer before you sign anything

If you haven't been able to speak with a lawyer within the time provided by your employer, ask them for an extension. In most cases, employer's will grant an extension as it's in their best interest for you to get legal advice before signing, too.

If you’ve been terminated without cause in Ontario, Kompa Law can help. We’re a boutique employment and human rights law firm with the expertise to help you navigate this challenging situation. Request a callback to learn more.