Canadian Employment Law: Knowing Your Employee Rights
"The fundamental principle of decency at work underlies all labour standards legislation..." Fairness at Work: Federal Labour Standards for the 21st Century.
In terms of employee rights, we've come an awful long way from 1872. That was the first-ever year of our annual Labour Day parade. Back then – if you can imagine this – it was still a crime to be a member of a union in Canada, under the law of criminal conspiracy.
This initial parade called for the release of 24 imprisoned leaders of the Toronto Typographical Union. They'd been arrested for going on strike to (gasp) reduce their workweek to a mere 58 hours! Today that standard workweek is between 40 to 48 hours.
Clearly, workplace laws have improved dramatically since that Draconian period. Yet many employees still don't know what their rights and obligations are. Since being informed can help you stand up for yourself in your job, we've assembled some helpful resources for you.
Acts That Cover Your Basic Employment Rights
Hours of work, minimum wages, sick days, vacation and severance provisions…all of these and many more related items are spelled out as Employment Standards. These are the minimum standards established by law that define and guarantee rights in the workplace.
Most workers in Canada - about 90 percent - are protected by the employment laws of their province or territory. Each province and territory has its own legislation. It's compulsory to place an Employment Standards Act poster in plain sight of employees for workplaces covered by this legislation.
The other 10% of Canadian employees work in places that are federally regulated. If you are such an employee, the Labour Program administers the federal labour standards that define employment conditions in your place of work. Find out if you work in a federally regulated business or industry. If so, your employment is governed by the Canada Labour Code.
Acts That Cover Discrimination and Employment Equity
The Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) prohibits discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, age and several other grounds. It came into force back in 1985. Since then, it has been updated ongoingly.
Another piece of legislation in this area is the Employment Equity Act (EEA), which falls under the Department of Justice Canada. These laws are meant to protect the rights of four "designated groups" in particular: women, people with disabilities, Aboriginal people, and visible minorities.
The Canadian Human Rights Act functions alongside the Employment Equity Act. The significant difference between the two is that the CHRA prohibits discrimination in general. In contrast, the EEA requires employers to use measures that improve employment opportunities for the four designated groups.
Where To Find Out More
Would you like to learn more about what your rights are if you get downsized, or your employer goes bankrupt? How about health and safety regulations that are meant to shield you from harm?
The following are some online resources where you can find some initial information:
Federal Department of Labour – Canada's federal Labour Program promotes "safe, healthy, cooperative and productive workplaces."
Basic Workplace Standards by Province – A brief comparison of minimum wages, paid public holidays, pregnancy and parental leave, hours of work and overtime, etc.
Workrights.ca - Gives you information on the labour codes to your province, and to compare practices in your region with those of other provinces and territories in Canada.
Canadian Labour Congress – CLC brings together Canada's national and international unions, the provincial and territorial federations of labour and 130 district labour councils.
Be Informed Or Call In The Experts
Think you know your rights as an employee? Probably not as well as you should. For instance, there's a general misconception that salaried employees (as distinct from hourly workers) are automatically excluded from the Employment Standards Act. Not true. If you're, say, an Executive Assistant earning $44,000 a year, you could still be entitled to overtime after working 44 hour weeks consistently, depending on the province of employment.
If you feel that your rights are being violated, try talking with your Human Resources department or union representative. Should expert advice be needed, you should contact an employment lawyer.
130 years ago, they were putting Canadians who went on strike into prison. Sure, we've evolved enormously since that time. But only by knowing your fundamental rights – and reaching out for advice when necessary – can you protect yourself from arbitrary actions of unenlightened employers.