By Farrah Kudus

A temporary lay-off usually refers to a situation where an employer temporarily reduces or entirely stops an employee’s work without pay, typically without terminating the employment relationship. Lay-offs can occur due to a downturn in business, seasonable employment, or some other reason.

The maximum duration that an employee can be laid off for depends not only on the laws in the specific province of the employment, but also on the terms within the employment contract. 

If the employment contract contains “recall rights,” which is generally the case for unionized workers, the maximum duration of the layoff will be specified in the employment contract itself. If not, an employer must abide by the minimum standards as determined by relevant provincial legislation (or federal legislation for federal workers) to determine the maximum length of a layoff. In Ontario, the Employment Standards Act lays out how long a temporary layoff can last.

Some other key statutory limits are described below:

  • In Ontario, and employer can lay-off an employee for a maximum of 13-weeks in any 20 consecutive week period. However, a layoff can be more than 13 weeks if it does not exceed 35 weeks in a period of 52 consecutive weeks if certain conditions are met (e.g., if the employer continues to pay benefits).
  • In Quebec,a layoff must be less than 6 months long.
  • In Alberta, a layoff cannot exceed 60 days in a period of 120 days.
  • In British Columbia, layoffs cannot exceed 13 weeks in any consecutive 20-week period.
  • Federally, a layoff must be less than 3 months or less, but this period may be extended in certain circumstances.

If an employee is recalled within the statutory layoff period, the employment relationship usually continues on as normal. However, if an employee is not recalled within this statutory time period, the employment relationship is deemed to be terminated by law, and termination entitlements may be owed from the employer to the employee. Refer to our blog post “You have just been laid off – is there anything you can do?” for more details on illegal layoffs.

In addition, the government may change the layoff regulations during states of emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information on how COVID-19 has affected layoff regulation in Ontario, refer to our blog post “Can I Layoff My Employees During the COVID-19 Pandemic”?

Ultimately, the length of a layoff for an employee for is variable and complex, and the rules vary drastically depending on jurisdiction. Fortunately, MyOpenCourt’s layoff tool can help. With just a few questions of your circumstances, we can determine the legality of a layoff and empower you with the information to build your case.