Notice of Termination in the U.S. and Canada: Two Contrasting Approaches

Notice of Termination in the U.S. and Canada: Two Contrasting Approaches

By Lindsey Drozd

In the United States, there is a common understanding that employees must give their employers two weeks’ notice before they resign. Two weeks’ notice is often described as a “courtesy,” but it’s so universally expected that it’s more of a social requirement. Skipping this step can result in substantial ill will from the former employer. The resulting bad reference can cause an employee a great deal of difficulty in finding new employment. Yet when an employer terminates employment, the expectation generally is that the employee will stop work immediately, pack up their belongings, and exit the premises.

In Canada, by contrast, employers are generally required to give their employees reasonable notice before termination.[1] Such requirements are found in provincial statutes, federal statutes, and federal common law.[2] An employee who is terminated without notice may pursue damages for wrongful dismissal under common law.[3] A common employee claim is one for lost wages and benefits during the reasonable notice period.[4] Some courts may allow employers to overcome their duty of reasonable notice by giving pay in lieu of notice.[5]

On the flipside, employees also owe a duty of reasonable notice to their employers under Canadian common law.[6] However, it is unusual for employers to pursue damages for breach of this duty, except in cases where an employee leaves without notice and immediately joins a competitor.[7] In these cases, such actions against the employee act as a substitute for noncompete agreements.[8]

While Canada’s approach has benefits and drawbacks, it is informative to look at how a legal system with the same common law roots as the United States[9] handles notice of termination. Given that employees experience more economic hardship from termination without notice than employers,[10] perhaps the burden of notice in the United States should not fall solely on the employee.


[1] Rachel Arnow-Richman, Mainstreaming Employment Contract Law: The Common Law Case for Reasonable Notice of Termination, 66 Fla. L. Rev. 1513, 1529 (2014).

[2] Samuel Estreicher & Jeffrey M. Hirsch, Comparative Wrongful Dismissal Law: Reassessing American Exceptionalism, 92 N.C. L. Rev. 343, 376 (2014).

[3] Gillian Demeyere, The Contract of Employment at the Supreme Court of Canada: Employee Protection and the Presumption of Employer Freedom, 38 Dalhousie L.J. 1, 28 (2015).

[4] Estreicher, supra note 2, at 376.

[5] See generally Dennis D. Buchanan, Defining Wrongful Dismissal: The Alberta Schism, 57 Alberta L. Rev. 95 (2019).

[6] Id. at 103.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] See Arnow-Richman, supra note 1, 1523.

[10] Buchanan, supra note 5, at 103.