What many people do not know, is that there are time limits that determine by what date legal proceedings or complaints must be initiated – these are known as limitation periods. If these periods are not followed, you will be out of time and your claim will no longer be enforceable. Therefore, if you have been terminated and intend to start a claim against your former employer, for example, because they did not appropriately compensate you upon termination, they wrongfully terminated you for cause or they terminated you in breach of the applicable human rights laws (among other possible reasons), it is important for you to know what time limits apply to you.
What follows are the four main questions that will determine the limitation period that applies to your specific situation:
1. Are you a federal or provincial employee?
Different laws apply to different types of employees. For example, if you are a provincial employee, depending on what you are claiming, you may be subject to a limitation period of 6 months, 12 months or 2 years. On the other hand, if you are a federal employee, limitation periods as short as 3 months and as long as 3 years can apply, again depending on what is being claimed.
2. What type of claim do you wish to make?
There is a difference between bringing a claim that is specifically employment related (such as a claim for unpaid wages or wrongful termination) versus one based in human rights (such as for discrimination). A claim under either Ontario's Human Rights Code or the Canadian Human Rights Act will be subject to a 1 year limitation period, whereas purely employment related claims can be subject to any number of possible limitation periods, as stated under question 1 above.
3. Is your claim based on an Act or in common law?
Former employees have the option to bring a complaint based on the applicable act (for example, the Employment Standards Act (“ESA”) if provincial and the Canada Labour Code if federal), or based in common law. Again, different limitation periods apply depending on which avenue you choose. For example, a complaint under the ESA alleging a contravention of the Act (for example, for non-payment of termination and severance pay) must be made within 6 months of termination. On the other hand, a lawsuit seeking reasonable notice of termination can be initiated within 2 years of termination.
4. What relief are you seeking?
Whether you are seeking unpaid wages, reinstatement, damages for breach of your human rights, or any other type of relief, the applicable limitation periods can and will vary.
If you have been terminated from your employment and you believe you have a valid complaint or claim to make against your former employer, seek legal advice sooner rather than later, in order to avoid missing out on what you are owed because of a missed limitation period.