We say that ‘just cause for summary dismissal’ (the legal term for cause) is like the capital punishment of employment law. You are effectively sending the employee out the door with nothing – no notice of their termination, no pay in lieu of notice, nothing. The challenge is that while many employers think that they have just cause to terminate, the legal threshold for cause is very narrow, and getting it wrong can be an expensive mistake.
Before you rush to take a heavy hand, think of just cause termination as a last resort. If there is suspicion of misconduct, for example, it may be advisable to place the employee on a paid administrative leave while you are investigating the allegations. This provides the opportunity to weigh your options and your evidence, and make sure that you are acting with an even hand.
Remember, while you may have had a reason in your mind for making the decision to terminate, it usually does not rise to the level of ‘just cause.’ The greater risk, though, is that an allegation of just cause can easily backfire if the court disagrees with your assessment of the fact. A misplaced allegation of just cause can come back as an allegation of bad faith, and increase the employee’s likelihood of being awarded damages if their case goes to trial. Learn more about just cause, and Stuart’s book on the topic, here.