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All’s fair in love and employment: Using lessons in love to help terminated employees

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As Valentine’s Day approaches, our minds turn to love, romance and, most importantly, chocolate. For some people, Valentine’s Day is not such a happy time, as it reminds them of elusive or unrequited love.

For terminated employees, heartbreak arises not from a lost love, but from a lost job. Like the jilted partner in a romantic break-up, terminated employees may feel rejected, lonely and even depressed.

While there is no cure for a broken heart, there is no shortage of advice about how to “move on” after a break-up. Common post-heartbreak advice may also be useful for recently terminated employees:

1. It’s not you, it’s me

We receive calls from clients who tell us emphatically that they should not have been terminated. In most cases, an employer is entitled to terminate an employee’s employment at any time without cause, so long as the employer provides reasonable notice of termination (or pay in lieu of notice). Employees should recognize that a decision to terminate may be due to a number of different reasons, including finances, organizational changes and even a personality conflict, and may have nothing to do with an employee’s performance. Although the employee may not agree with the employer’s decision, in most cases, the employee may not challenge it.

2. You’re not alone

Everyone knows someone who has had a broken heart, but when you’ve been dumped, it seems like you are the only person who has ever been so heartsick. Similarly, many of our employee clients have never been terminated and are overwhelmed by the thought of it. It’s important for employees to understand that, like break-ups, terminations happen. There are resources for terminated employees, such as employee assistance providers who can assist with coping strategies and outplacement counsellors who provide career advice.

3. It’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all

Immediately following a breakup, it may be hard to accept this advice. Similarly, while it may be cold comfort, there are some upsides to a termination. The most important of these “upsides” is a severance package, which is generally calculated based on the employee’s entitlement to reasonable notice of termination. The length of that notice depends on a number of factors, which may include the language of any written employment contract and the employee’s personal characteristics, such as length of employment, age and position. Absent a contractual limitation, an employee will be entitled to his or her compensation (including salary and benefits) during the notice period.

4. There are plenty of fish in the sea

Looking for love is often the last thing on the mind of jilted romantic partners, but that is one of the most common pieces of advice shared to soothe them. As soon as possible following the termination, employees should seek other employment. The process of “mitigation” is important for terminated employees because, if they make a wrongful dismissal claim, employees are required show that they have attempted to minimize their damages by searching for other employment. If employees are unable to show proof of their mitigation attempts, a court may reduce any damage award. On a practical level, finding another suitor (or employer) is often the best way to “get over” a break-up (or termination).

Like a broken heart, enduring a termination is not a pleasant experience, but it does not have to be disastrous. So for all those terminated employees, take the above advice to heart (pun intended).

Jennifer Heath