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Decoding the ‘Just Cause’ for Employee Termination in Ontario

In Ontario, employment termination can occur for various reasons, but the termination must generally be based on “just cause” or “reasonable notice” as defined in the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) and common law principles.

The following blog addresses just cause termination and the high standard required to dismiss an employee for just cause.


Just cause for employment termination typically involves serious misconduct or a fundamental breach of the employment contract by the employee. Essentially, this form of employment termination implies that an employee’s dismissal is justified on the grounds of valid and well-founded reasons.

Common examples of just cause include:

  1. Dishonesty or Theft: If an employee engages in theft, fraud, or other forms of dishonesty while on the job, it may constitute just cause for termination.
  2. Insubordination: Refusing to follow reasonable and lawful instructions from an employer can be grounds for termination.
  3. Serious Misconduct: Actions such as harassment, violence, or serious breaches of workplace policies can be considered just cause.
  4. Negligence or Incompetence: If an employee consistently fails to perform their job competently or neglects their duties, it may be a valid reason for termination.
  5. Conflict of Interest: Engaging in activities that create a conflict of interest with the employer’s business can lead to just cause for termination.
  6. Breach of Confidentiality: Sharing sensitive company information without authorization can be considered just cause.
  7. Drug or Alcohol Abuse: Depending on workplace policies, substance abuse that affects job performance or safety may be grounds for termination.

It is important to note that what constitutes just cause can vary depending on the specific circumstances, the terms of the employment contract, and any relevant workplace policies.


Employers must provide clear evidence of just cause.

Employers must demonstrate that they had a valid reason to terminate an employee without providing notice or pay in lieu of notice.

Here are some key steps employers may take to prove just cause termination:

  1. Documentation: Employers may maintain thorough records of the employee’s performance, behavior, and any incidents that led to the decision to terminate. This includes written warnings, performance evaluations, emails, and other relevant documents.
  2. Consistency: Employers may consistently enforce workplace policies and procedures and apply disciplinary actions fairly and consistently to all employees. Inconsistencies in how discipline is applied can weaken the case for just cause.
  3. Investigation: Before terminating an employee for just cause employers typically conduct a fair and thorough investigation into the alleged misconduct or performance issues. This may involve interviewing witnesses, collecting evidence, and documenting the investigation process.
  4. Communicate Expectations: Employers should ensure that employees are aware of their job responsibilities, performance expectations, and any relevant workplace policies. Clear communication about expectations can help support a case for just cause if an employee fails to meet them.
  5. Progressive Discipline: In many cases, employers are expected to follow a progressive discipline process, which typically involves warnings or other corrective measures before termination. Skipping these steps without valid reasons can weaken the case for just cause.

If you believe you have been dismissed without just cause in Ontario, you have certain rights and remedies under employment law. It is important to understand your options and take appropriate action. It is also essential to act promptly as there are time limits for filing claims and pursuing legal action.


Consulting with an employment lawyer early in the process can help you understand your rights and determine the best course of action based on your specific circumstances.

Whether you are an employer or an employee who needs assistance with workplace matters, including any questions you may have about just cause termination, we would be happy to assist you. Please contact Toronto employment and immigration lawyers, Sultan Lawyers, at (416) 214-5111 or here.

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