Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Just Cause Definition:

Employment law: misconduct of an employee, or some other event relevant to the employee, which justifies the immediate termination of the employment contract.

A sufficient reason to terminate an employment contract immediately and for which, no notice or severance pay is due to the employee. 

Also, misconduct irreconcilable or inconsistent with the contract of employment.

The abrupt termination of a contract of employment by the employer that is fair and reasonable under all the circumstances.

In Davis v. Indiana, Justice Ezra Friedlander of the Court of Appeals of Indiana wrote:

"Fault or just cause for discharge, in the unemployment context, means failure or volition, and does not mean something blameworthy, culpable, or worthy of censure. This includes, among other things, a carelessness or negligence of such a degree or recurrence as to show an intentional or substantial disregard of the employer's interest, or of the employee's duties or obligation to his employer."

In Unitah, Justice Jill Parrish of the Supreme Court of Utah wrote:

"The term just cause connotes a fair and honest cause or reason, regulated by good faith on the part of the party exercising the power. Additionally, a just cause reason for termination is not "trivial, arbitrary or capricious, unrelated to business needs or goals, or pretextual."

Even as far back as 1889, in the case of McIntyre v Hockin, Justice Maclennan of the Ontario Court of Appeal wrote:

"The causes which are sufficient to justify dismissal must vary with the nature of the employment and the circumstances of each case.

"Dismissal is an extreme measure, and not to be resorted to for trifling causes. The fault must be something which a reasonable man could not be expected to overlook...."

In Port Arthur Shipbuilding, Justice Schroeder of the Ontario Court of Appeal wrote:

"If an employee has been guilty of serious misconduct, habitual neglect of duty, incompetence, or conduct incompatible with his duties, or prejudicial to the employer's business, or if he has been guilty of willful disobedience to the employer's orders in a matter of substance, the law recognizes the employer's right summarily to dismiss the delinquent employee."

Typically, an employee is fired for just cause where he or she has been found to have been dishonest with the employer, such as theft of corporate property or in the participation of a competitor business. Insolence and insubordination can also constitute just cause as can intoxication at the workplace.

Just cause no longer requires fault on the part of the employee or a blameworthy error or omission. For example, innocent absenteeism for a prolonged sickness (sick leave) or incompetence are example of what may constitute  just causes for summary dismissal.

The courts are engaged in judicial activism in this area of the law by gradually but clearly reducing the scope of each of the available grounds for just cause summary dismissal and more and more, require of an employer that they extend one or more second chances to the employee and resort only to summary dismissal in the more egregious of cases.

For example, Justice Laing in Caudle v. Louisville Sales adopted these words:

"Just cause is conduct on the part of the employee incompatible with his or her duties, conduct which goes to the root of the contract with the result that the employment relationship is too fractured to expect the employer to provide a second chance."

French: licenciement pour cause valable.

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