The Canadian Bar Association
Employment & Labour

Know your rights before accepting severance package

With a new wave of layoffs and restructuring at Canadian financial institutions due to slowing growth and changing consumer demands, Toronto litigation and employment lawyer Kevin Fisher cautions those being laid off or demoted to know their rights and entitlements.

While Scotiabank is the latest institution to slash jobs, the Globe and Mail reports that over the past year, cuts at the major banks, including TD and CIBC, have been common “as banks continue to respond to a period of economic and technology-driven uncertainty even as profits remain strong.”

A spokesperson for Scotiabank told the newspaper the layoffs are related to a goal of moving resources away from traditional branch banking and instead investing in technology and innovation as consumers increasingly do their banking online or on their phones.

"There are so many people in the financial institutions being laid off or demoted,” says Fisher, a partner with Basman Smith LLP who has acted for a wide range of financial services employees in the last 20 years.

“The banking industry is in a firestorm right now,” he says.

He tells AdvocateDaily.com that employees being offered packages may not know their rights or what they're entitled to.

“The banks aren't just laying off people, they're also demoting people in senior positions,” he says. “In that climate of fear, where an employee’s colleagues are being laid off, a demotion may seem like a saving grace, but before you accept a package, it would be wise to meet with an experienced employment lawyer to review what you’re being offered."

Fisher says unless the employee is part of the investment arm of a bank, they fall under the Canada Labour Code rather than provincial legislation.

“That makes for some unique differences between the statutes,” he says. “Of course, it still falls under common law but many people don’t realize that.”

The Globe and Mail reports financial institutions are blaming “fintech” for some of the cuts. It reports that at a shareholder meeting last month, Scotiabank’s CEO expects that by 2020, “less than 10 per cent of financial transactions will occur within bank branches, while the share of financial products sold online will swell to more than 50 per cent.”

Fisher says while some argue these cuts are due to a shift in technology, that’s cold comfort to those faced with layoffs or demotions.

"It's really about reducing the head count at certain levels and it can seem quite arbitrary,” he says.

 

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