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  • Oleksii Sudarenko

Lay-off and COVID-19. Is it legal?

Updated: Jun 14

Your employer says they have to lay you off or asks you to work fewer hours “until things pick up.” Learn your rights if you're laid off from work.

General Rule: lay-off is illegal.

Generally speaking, an employer can not lay you off whenever they want as it would be a breach of the employment contract and as such he shall give you a notice of termination or a payment in lieu of such notice. Of course, there are several exemptions from this rule we will be talking about later.


What is a notice of termination?


Your employer can give you notice in 2 ways. He can warn you in advance that since such and such date you will be terminated. This is called a working notice, and the period of time you worked since informed till terminated is called a notice period. Or your employer can let you go right away. But then he shall pay you the money you would have earned during the notice period. This money is called payment in lieu of notice. Most often they called severance pay or termination pay, however, this is not a precise definition.

There are rules around how much notice (or pay) an employer needs to give — and when they don't need to give any (such as if they had grounds stipulated in Employment Standards Act).

Exemption to the General Rules:

Temporary layoffs are only legal if one of the following applies:

- You have a written employment contract that allows for a layoff.

- You work in an industry where layoffs are standard practice.

- You consent (expressly or impliedly) to the layoff.

- Your employer must prove they had the right to lay you off for one of these reasons.

If you’re let go temporarily and none of the above apply, you have the same rights as someone who’s let go without cause. That means you’re entitled to notice (or pay).

The law limits the length of any temporary layoff

If a temporary layoff is permitted in your situation, and if you’re covered by employment standards law, there are limits on how long the layoff can last. Your employer can temporarily lay you off for up to 13 weeks in a consecutive 20-week period. (This limit has been extended during the coronavirus pandemic to 24 weeks.)

Need help figuring out if employment standards law applies to you? See our information on who’s covered.

If the layoff lasts more than 13 weeks in a consecutive 20-week period, it’s no longer “temporary.” It would be treated as if you were fired without cause on the first day of the layoff.

If your employer reduces your hours

If you’re covered by employment standards law and your employer reduces your weekly hours so you’re earning less than half of your regular wage, this counts as a week’s layoff. That is, it counts as one week towards the 13-week “temporary layoff” period.


If you need help or have questions regarding your entitlements, please contact us now. At SAV Paralegal Services you will find answers to all your questions.


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