When Can Mistakes Mean Termination?


As an employment lawyer, I am often asked by employer and employee clients how many strikes an employee gets before they are out.

While there is a learning curve to every position and a host of actions an employer can take when a mistake is made, termination for making a mistake at work is always on the table.

So when can mistakes end the employment relationship?

While it depends on the circumstances, termination can occur:

When the mistake poses a safety risk to others

Take for example the case of an employee who leaves hazardous equipment on when leaving the workplace and thereby jeopardizes the well-being of his/her fellow employees.

While this can be an isolated incident, the court has held that the employer had reasonable grounds to dismiss the employee.

When the mistake is a breach of policy and results in damage to the employer

An employee caught breaching an employer’s policy can be terminated as it is assumed that the employee has read and agreed to the terms of the policy.

Examples can include committing a criminal offence (there’s a real case about an employee driving the employer’s car while intoxicated); harassment/bullying/violence/discrimination; theft; social media misconduct (insulting the boss online!).

When the mistakes pile up

One mistake may not irreparably harm the employment relationship, but several errors may eventually warrant dismissal.

In one case, an employee was disciplined for nine different incidents including carelessness, unreported absences, and conflict with colleagues, before being dismissed for cause.

When an employee hides or denies their mistake

If a mistake is brought to your attention, your response can be a key factor as to whether termination is justified, even if the mistake itself is not serious enough for a termination. However, if you can show remorse and/or a plan to report your mistake, it can mitigate the need for a just cause termination.

It is not a forgone conclusion that a mistake will lead to a termination and it is important to keep in mind that the following factors will be considered by an employer before pulling the trigger on a dismissal:

  • Whether the mistake was accidental or intentional
  • Whether the employee takes ownership of their mistake
  • Whether the mistake irreparably harms the business, reputation, and functioning of the employer
  • The employee’s years of service; position; and the occurrence of similar mistakes
  • The overall record of the employee

Even where the employment relationship is not terminated by the employer as a result of a mistake, the employer still has a number of options for discipline including warning letters and suspension.

It is, therefore, important to keep in mind that your employment relationship is compromised by the mistakes that are made and more importantly by the manner in which you respond to the errors.

What would you like to know about your rights and responsibilities as an employee? Let us know in the comments!

About the author

Parisa Nikfarjam is an employment lawyer with Rubin Thomlinson LLP. She supports both employee and employer clients with legal counsel in all areas of employment law and workplace human rights. Parisa is a recent graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School, where she earned her Juris Doctor degree. Parisa writes numerous articles on employment law topics for a variety of publications including HR Connected and Lexology, and enjoys speaking to human resources professionals, educators, business owners, and recent graduates about workplace law issues.