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Limitation Periods

Employment Lawyer and Human Rights law - Limitation periodThe merits of your case are important, but respecting limitation periods is paramount. If you file your claim too late – it may be thrown out.

What are limitation periods? Limitation periods are deadlines before which your claim must have been commenced. They are dangerous in that they could limit and stop you from presenting your case. Delaying starting a case can be risky since courts, boards, or tribunals may decide not to hear your case, at all.

Under s. 4 of the Limitations Act (the main legislation governing limitation periods), plaintiffs have a period of two years from the date on which a cause of action is discovered to commence their legal proceeding.

However, this section is deceptively simple. The date on which a cause of action is discovered is the date on which a cause of action “accrues” to a claimant. A cause of action accrues when all the elements of the cause of action fully materialize, entitling that claimant to pursue remedy from a court or tribunal.

The exact time of the accrual of a cause of action varies in accordance with the nature of the action, and the facts of the case. For example, a human rights claim may have a one-year limitation period if the individual chooses to file an Application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, but where that one year begins to run can be tricky. If the individual chooses to issue a Statement of Claim with a human rights cause of action, this may change the limitation period as well. Therefore, determining a limitation period purely based on a date of discovery of an incident can be dangerously ambiguous.

Until a claim is clearly appreciated, its discovery date cannot be clearly determined. Thus, relying on one’s version of the facts, no matter how airtight, can lead to miscalculations and thus prejudice or even a complete rejection of a claim (or motions derailing your claim).

As always, there are exceptions to the basic two-year limitation period. In fact, some causes of actions have different limitation periods and specific factors which trigger the limitation period timer.

Note the Limitations Act is not the only source of limitation periods in Ontario. In fact, there are over forty provincial statutes which impose limits on various types of legal action.

A common error in employment law is assuming that limitation periods begin on the date of an employee’s dismissal. Recall that an employee is wrongfully dismissed when he or she is dismissed and does not receive adequate notice or pay in lieu thereof. The date of discovery is not necessarily the date of dismissal but, instead, the date on which that employee learned that he or she would be dismissed and would not be provided with adequate notice entitlements. That date may or may not be the date on which the employee was dismissed.

Respecting limitation periods is one of the most essential elements of launching a successful claim. The deadline by which that claim must be filed will often determine its outcome. Investigating the idiosyncratic nuances of each cause of action involved in a claim as well as the facts scenario itself is therefore always necessary in order to determine the timeline of your matter.

Whether you are an employer or employee, a limitation period can make or break your claim. Be sure to seek legal advice as early as possible, as time is of the essence. Contact us at (800)771-7882, or email [email protected] and we would be happy to assist.


Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to serve as, or should be construed as legal advice, and is only to provide general information. It is in no way particular to your case and should not be relied on in any way. No portion or use of this blog will establish a lawyer-client relationship with the author or any related party. Should you require legal advice for your particular situation, fill out the contact form, call (800)771-7882, or email [email protected].