In Canada, each province/territory is free to set the minimum employment standards legislation that governs the employment relationship for that region. Some employee rights have already been discussed in this country guide and are detailed under their specific sections, such as minimum wage, hours of work and overtime, leaves and termination.
In Canada, employment is regulated by statutes and by common law in all provinces/territories except for Quebec, where civil law governs. With the exception of Quebec, there are no rules governing the language of the employment contract, which is often in English. In Quebec, employment agreements must be drafted in French but can also be accompanied by an English translation.
Even though written employment contracts aren’t mandatory, most employers provide employees with written contracts to define the terms of the relationship, including, most importantly, rights on termination.
The employment standards legislation of each province/territory sets out the minimum statutory rights of employees, which are implied terms of the agreement. However, the minimum requirements don’t prohibit employers and employees from agreeing to greater rights or benefits.
Employees have the right to receive payslips when they get paid, which can be done electronically as long as employees get access to them confidentially. Employers must provide payslips to be in either English or French, as preferred by the employee.
Payslips must include the following:
- the pay period being paid for
- the number of hours being paid for
- the wage rate if the employee is paid hourly
- all the deductions made
- total of how much the employee is paid after all the deductions
- gross wages and how wages are calculated (with specifics varying by province/territory)
Employers who don’t provide payslips to employees are fined CAD$25 per day of failure. The minimum penalty is CAD$100 and the maximum is CAD$2,500.
Employees working for federally regulated companies (such as airlines, radio/television, Schedule 1 banks, and inter-provincial/territorial trucking) have the right to request flexible work arrangements from their employers. Flexible work (“flex work”) arrangements can be requested on a permanent or temporary basis and can alter the number of hours worked, work schedule, or location.
To request flex work, employees must meet the following criteria:
- Make a written request for the arrangement (including employee’s name, date of request, description of requested arrangements, requested start and end dates, and expected effects on the employer).
- Have six months of continuous employment.
Employers have 30 days to respond in writing to the request, which they can approve as is or in part, propose an alternative to, or deny. Employees cannot suffer any consequences to their employment because of the request.
Employers can deny the request, based on the following reasons:
- The arrangement results in additional costs to the employer.
- The arrangement has a negative impact on the quality, quantity of work, performance, or ability to meet customer demand.
- The employer cannot reorganize work among existing employees or hire new ones.
- There would not be enough work available for the employees.
- The request does not meet the criteria noted above.
Health and safety
Employers must provide and maintain a safe and healthy working environment for employees. Since this is a legal responsibility, employers have various obligations regarding the design, installation, operation, use, or maintenance of protective devices, machinery, equipment, buildings, and structures, among other things. Each jurisdiction prescribes its own detailed standards regarding workplace health and safety.
In Ontario, employees are protected from being dismissed, demoted, or penalized for raising health and safety concerns, seeking enforcement of safety regulations, and refusing to perform unsafe work according to the Occupational Health and Safety Act. If an employee is terminated for raising such concerns, they have a statutory right to reinstatement.
As part of Occupational Health and Safety regimes in Canada, employees have the right to refuse unsafe work as long as they have reasonable cause to believe that it presents a danger. Specifically, the regime states that an employee may refuse to do the following:
- use or operate a machine that is dangerous to themselves or to another employee
- work in a certain place
- perform an activity that is dangerous to themselves or to another employee
In Canada, employers cannot pay one employee less than another on the basis of gender if they perform the same kind of work in the same establishment; their work requires substantially the same skill, effort, and responsibility; and their work is performed under similar working conditions. Therefore, in most provinces/territories, employees who do equal work are entitled to equal pay (e.g., Ontario has equal pay, whereas BC doesn’t).
Employees, whether hourly or salaried, whose schedule can change weekly have the right to be notified of a new shift schedule at least four days in advance. In unforeseen circumstances, the notice may be of a minimum of 24 hours (e.g., in Alberta, it’s 24 hours; in Saskatchewan, it’s a week).
Protection from discrimination & unequity
Under the federal regime, the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) prohibits discrimination in employment, from the interview stage to termination, based on the following grounds:
- gender, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation
- race, ancestry, ethnicity, and place of origin
- age, colour, creed, disability, and record of offences
- citizenship, marital status, and family status
- religion, colour, genetic characteristics, disability, and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted
Under the federal regime, alongside the CHRA, there is the Employment Equity Act (EEA), which protects the rights of the following groups and requires the employer to use measures that improve employment opportunities for these groups:
- people with disabilities
- aboriginal people
- visible minorities
Employers must prepare and implement an employment equity plan that removes barriers and achieves equitable representation while maintaining equity records. Failure to comply with the requirements imposed by the EEA could result in monetary penalties.
Protection from harassment and violence
Employers and their policy committees (if applicable) have the obligation to care for the welfare of the employees and create a safe place for workers (physically, verbally, and mentally). Employers must develop a policy on the prevention of workplace harassment and violence. They also have to clarify behavioural expectations and notify employees of their rights if they feel they have been harassed or discriminated against. Furthermore, employers should carry out workplace assessments to identify risk factors, and within six months develop and implement preventative measures that address those risks. In Ontario, the legislation outlines that employers have 90 days to carry out an investigation into the allegations.
Employers must also provide employees with a training program that addresses workplace harassment and violence. If an employee makes a complaint, employers mustn’t disclose their identity and are obliged to act.
Protection against dismissal
Employees in certain situations benefit from additional protection against being dismissed. Employees taking certain leaves—including but not limited to maternity, parental, domestic violence, compassionate and critical illness—are all protected from being dismissed during the leave (with the protection periods varying by province/territory). In addition, the Human Rights Code provides protection from any dismissal (1) motivated by a form of discrimination or (2) performed in reprisal for the employee’s attempt to enforce their rights under human rights legislation.
Employees are protected from reprisals by their employers for exercising their legal rights, demanding that their employers comply with legal requirements, and making complaints or reporting unlawful conduct to law enforcement officials.
In Canada, it’s a criminal offence to threaten an employee with disciplinary action, demotion, or termination so they don’t provide information to law enforcement officials about an offence by the employer, their officers, directors, or other employees.
Employers have the duty to protect employees’ data. There are 10 basic principles that govern data protection, which extend to the collection, use or disclosure of employees’ personal information: consent, accountability, accuracy, limiting collection and use, identifying purposes, safeguards, openness, challenging compliance, individual access and disclosure, and retention.
In Quebec, British Columbia, and Alberta, there is additional legislation regarding employees’ personal data that requires employers to inform employees of the purpose of collecting data, which limits the data collected, used or disclosed to be used solely and reasonably for the purposes of recruitment, management, or dismissal. Employees must also be notified in advance if the information is to be transferred abroad for any purpose.
Outside British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec, and the federal jurisdiction, there is no binding privacy legislation that governs private-sector employers, other than employees’ personal health information.
Protection in case of a business transfer
Employees aren’t specifically protected from dismissal either before or after a business transfer. During a business ownership transfer through shares transactions, employees, whether unionized or not, retain their uninterrupted employment.
On the other hand, in an asset transaction the common law considers that the employees’ employment ends at the point of sale, even if they accept new employment with the purchaser. Employees cannot be transferred without their consent. If an employee refuses to accept an offer of employment with the new employer, this is not seen as a resignation from their employment, but it may impact their entitlements.
When it comes to statutory entitlements (vacation, leave, notice), most Canadian jurisdictions (including British Columbia and Ontario) consider employment to be uninterrupted. However, employers who aren’t willing to recognize the continuity of the accrued entitlements must make it explicit through the contract, although the contracts may not always be enforceable in court.
It isn’t mandatory to offer employees harmonized employment terms after a business transfer, but, in practice, most new employers offer similar employment as a result of terms reached during the transaction to minimize liability for dismissal pay and other employee entitlements.
In some provinces/territories, such as Ontario, pregnant or nursing employees have the right to request a change in their duties or role if the present situation poses a health risk to them or their baby.
Requests for reassignment must (1) be done in writing and (2) include a confirmation letter from the doctor about the need for the change, specifying which duties must be stopped and for how long.
While employers are in the process of considering the request, employees are entitled to having a paid leave. If the employer finds the reassignment not to be practical or achievable, employees have the right to an unpaid protected leave for the period of impossible continued employment.
Benefits during a leave of absence
Employees can continue contributing to and participating in benefit plans when they take any job-protected leave of absence, including pregnancy and parental leave, personal emergency leave, or sick leave.
In every province/territory in Canada, it is an employee right to be covered under the statutory workers’ compensation and to receive compensation for injuries that happen at work. However, there are some exemptions.
Labour unions are relatively common in Canada, especially in the trade and manufacturing industries. Specific rules regarding joining a union and engaging in collective bargaining with the employer vary according to the province/territory. It’s important to note that in unionized workplaces employees don’t have a choice on whether to join the union.
Employees in certain industries and roles aren’t entitled to join a union or enter into a collective bargaining relationship with their employer. This applies to those in managerial functions or those who are employed in a confidential capacity in matters relating to labour relations.
Further, in many jurisdictions, employees who work in education, government, and specialised industries (e.g., agriculture) are governed by specific legislative schemes that establish labour relations regimes different from those under the general legislation. Unionized employees are governed by the relevant provincial/territorial relations act specifics.