Ask the HR Department: Does COVID-19 Affect the Length of a Reasonable Notice Period?

By Olivia Cicchini, employment law content specialist at the HR consulting firm, Peninsula Canada. Olivia is a licensed paralegal with the Law Society of Ontario, specializing in employment law and legal drafting.

Due to the pandemic, there have been some court cases where terminated workers argued that they should have received a lengthier notice period. In one court case, the employee claimed the negative impact of the pandemic on the economy made it harder for him to get a job, even though the termination happened before the pandemic. In another case, the termination occurred in March 2020, just after a state of emergency was declared in Ontario.

Both appeals to extend the notice period length were denied by courts. The first appeal was denied because the court held that terminations that happened prior to the pandemic “should not attract the same consideration” as those that happened during. In the second, the court declined to extend the notice period because the termination was made early in the pandemic and its impact on the job market and economy was not yet known.

Based on these cases, the pandemic has not impacted the length of reasonable notice periods in a significant way. However, it is possible that courts may make different decisions if the termination occurred well into the pandemic when its impacts on the economy and job market were well known. Employers are advised to incorporate a clear and detailed termination clause in their contracts to protect their businesses.

Peninsula is an HR and Health & Safety consulting firm serving over 80,000 small businesses worldwide, including dealers in home improvement. Clients are supported with ongoing updates to their workplace documentation and policies as legislation changes. Additionally, clients benefit from 24/7 employer HR advice and are protected by legal insurance.