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Expert: Olivia McIvor and Andrea Jacques

Joe asked:

I am 22 years old, so this is my first real job. The company I work for is having huge problems internally, and because they will not reach their targets they have to make several people redundant. I am one of them. To my dismay, my manager has asked me to resign so that 1) they avoid paying me any compensation and 2) because it looks better on their part. I am so annoyed; I feel that I am a victim of their failure. Can they do this?

Olivia McIvor and Andrea Jacques answered:

You are absolutely right that your employer "asking you to resign" is wrong. It's an illegal act to coerce an employee into quitting so they can avoid paying you what you legally deserve: compensation. Depending upon which part of Canada you are located in, you are entitled to a set amount of compensation for every year of service rendered. Contact your local Employment Standards Office to get details on your region.

Although I appreciate that they are going through financial hardship, this is a common challenge and risk of being in business and the company must accept the responsibility (and the costs) for the business downturns just as it would most certainly reap the rewards of any increase in profits. (I highly doubt that if the company were to become successful in the future it would call you up to pay your past due severance pay and thank you for being understanding and helping them through the tough times!) Employees are employees because they do not wish to assume the financial risks that a company must. And remember, the risk and financial hardship to you of losing employment and having to find other work is considerable as well. You need and deserve to receive severance pay in order to have some time to seek other employment.

Finally, on the legal front, if you say you have "resigned," they will put that information on your Record of Employment and when you take this to the Employment Office to file for Employment Insurance benefits, you will be denied because you voluntarily resigned. If you then tell them what happened, they will contact the employer to verify this and the company could end up being fined for breaching the Employment Standards Act. In short, it is in both your best interests to be honest and upfront about the situation.

A last piece of advice: Although this is a challenging time and you are likely having mixed feelings about your own abilities and why you were selected for redundancy, make an effort to see this transition as a time of opportunity to reevaluate where you want to go in your career. Many great books can help you with this. Some that I recommend are Making a Living While Making a Difference by Melissa Everett, Creating You & Co. by William Bridges, and just about anything written by Barbara Sher. I also recommend reading Transitions by William Bridges, which will be useful if you are experiencing mixed emotions about leaving this company and finding new employment. Check out the government-funded career transition and re-employment programs available from a local Human Resources Development Canada office and search local magazines for workshops on finding your passion and purpose. Remember, it may feel difficult now, but if you take a proactive stance toward this forced change, I guarantee that years from now you will look back on this experience with gratitude as a critical positive turning point in your career.

About the author

Olivia McIvor is a Certified Human Resource Professional with a Canada-wide designation whose successful 18-year business career has included 13 years in human resource management with large corporations. Andrea Jacques has spent 13 years working with thousands of individuals from around the world, in university, government, health care, union and entrepreneurial organizations to enhance career vitality, performance and engagement at work. They are co-founders of a human resources consulting practice, Kyosei Consulting International Inc., dedicated to creating a vision of work that fosters the sustainability of people, profits and the planet. For more information check out their website at

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