Know Your Rights: A Guide to Employment Standards


Know Your Rights: A Guide to Employment Standards

By: Scott Byers | OLC Editorial Assistant
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So you’ve landed that dream Co-op job, or perhaps you’ve just graduated and are stepping into the working world for the first time. If all goes well, you’ll work hard, make a lasting contribution to your organization, and you’ll be treated with respect and compensated properly for your efforts. But what happens if all doesn’t go well?

It is important not to be too sanguine about the employer-employee relationship. While most employers are eager to support their employees, develop a nurturing work environment, and safeguard the rights of their workers, this may not always be the case. Some workers are not fully compensated for their time; others may find their schedules are constantly being changed, sometimes with little or no advance notice.  Some people are even bullied and harassed on the job.

Less experienced workers are especially vulnerable; if you have limited work experience, you may feel pressured to prove your worth to your new boss, and this may make you reluctant to assert your rights. Indeed, if you’re new to the world of work, you may not even be aware that you have rights.

This guide is designed to outline your basic rights and responsibilities in the workplace.  Of course the full range of legal protections cannot be covered here. Instead, this piece is designed to cover common issues faced by younger people entering the workforce for the first time.

What are employment standards?

Employment standards (sometimes called labour standards) are the laws and regulations that govern the employer-employee relationship.  They are set by provincial governments (although workers in some industries are covered by federal standards), and are enforced by officers in the provincial labour ministries.  In BC, the Employment Standards Branch of the Ministry of Labour and Citizens Services oversees employment standards.   

The British Columbia Employment Standards Act contains most of the provisions that apply to BC workers.  The Act can be found here, and an interpretation manual can be viewed here.

What are my rights?

The Employment Standards Act contains provisions that govern hiring, hours of work, holiday, pay, termination, etc.  These provisions are designed to promote fairness, consistency, and predictability for both parties in the employer-employee relationship.

The follow are examples of provisions set out by the BC Employment Standards Act:

  • Workers must be paid a minimum wage of $11.35 per hour (learn about some exceptions for servers).
  • An employee who reports for work must be paid for at least two hours, even if the employee works less than two hours.
  • After working eight hours in a day an employee must be paid time-and-a-half for the next four hours worked, and double-time for all hours worked in excess of 12 hours in a day. An employee who works more than 40 hours in a week must be paid time-and-a-half after 40 hours.
  • Employers cannot require that an employee pay for any portion of an employer’s business cost. This includes expenses arising from theft, damage, breakage, or failure to pay by a customer.  Employers may only deduct for such things as income tax, Employment Insurance premiums, Canada Pension Plan contributions, and union dues or other amounts authorized by a collective agreement.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it should give you some idea of your entitlements under the Employment Standards Act.  Fact sheets containing information on other provisions and situations can be found here.

What are my responsibilities?

Employment standards are a two-way street. Workers enjoy a number of protections, but they also have responsibilities to their employers.  These include:

  • Arriving to work on time.
  • Following supervisors’ instructions.
  • Adhering to company policies and the conditions set out in your employment contract (if you have one).
  • Adhering to workplace health and safety rules and policies.

Again, this is certainly not a comprehensive list.  But the important thing to remember is that you do have responsibilities to your employer, and these responsibilities should be taken seriously.  If you have any questions about your responsibilities, consult your supervisor, your Co-op Coordinator, or the BC Ministry of Labour and Citizens Services.

Frequently asked questions

The following is adapted from actual questions asked by Bridging Online students.

Q. I’m paid salary, and sometimes I have to stay late to complete my assigned tasks.  Am I entitled to overtime pay?

A. The regulations governing overtime pay are no different for salaried workers than for those paid an hourly wage.  If you’re working more than 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week, you are entitled to overtime pay.  You should keep a record of all overtime hours and discuss the situation with your employer.

Q. I feel like my boss is treating me differently because of my race (or gender, religion, etc.). What should I do?

A. This is a human rights issue.  Human rights are protected under the BC Human Rights Code (or equivalent in other provinces), and employers who violate this code can be subject to serious penalties.  If you think your rights are being violated, you should contact the BC Human Rights Tribunal Office.  Also, see Amara Der’s article on human rights in the workplace.

Q. I'm having an issue with my employer, and I’m a member of a union.  What should I do?

A. Employment standards are handled differently in unionized workplaces.  Your rights and responsibilities are defined by the terms of your union’s collective agreement, not by provincial statute.  Dispute resolution is also handled differently.  If you are experiencing problems, you should ask to speak to your union representative or “shop steward.”

Q. I have to travel a lot in my job.  What are the rules that govern work-related expenses incurred during travel?

A. The regulations involving expenses vary greatly depending on what industry you work in.  In general, however, you should not be required to pay for any items that fall within your employer’s costs of business.  You should consult your local Employment Standards Branch office to find out more about your specific situation.

Q. What can I do to avoid having a problem with my employer to begin with?

A. The key to avoiding problems with your employer is to maintain good lines of communication. If you cannot complete your assigned tasks during normal working hours, for example, you should discuss this with your supervisor. Chances are that your supervisor will be happy work with you to ensure that your duties can be completed within an appropriate time frame. Also, be sure to keep a log of the hours you work, and note any deviation between the posted schedule and your actual hours. Always keep your pay stubs and other documents provided by your employer, and never sign anything that you do not understand.

Approaching your supervisor

Approaching your supervisor about issues related to employment standards can seem daunting, especially if you’re new to the world of work.  As a new employee, you probably want to prove your worth to your boss, and you certainly don’t want to seem like a complainer.  But it is important not to underestimate your own value – just because you are new employee doesn’t mean that you deserve to be treated unfairly.  With this in mind, you should never hesitate to speak up if you feel your rights are being violated.

Before you speak to your employer, you should make sure that you are adequately prepared.  You can consult with an Employment Standards Officer to work out the details of your particular situation, and to learn about the employment standards provisions that apply in your case.  If you are on a Co-op work-term, be sure to also consult a Co-op Coordinator before approaching your employer.

Once you have all the details of your case worked out, you should feel more confident about approaching your supervisor.  But remember: there is a right way and a wrong way to broach the subject; the key is to be assertive without being aggressive.

When you speak to your supervisor, keep in mind the following tips:

  • Preface remarks with "Do you have a minute for us to discuss something?"
  • Express your wants, ideas or feelings directly. The goal is to communicate.
  • Express yourself in the first person, using the word "I" rather than "you."
  • Be tactful. Express emotion verbally, not just nonverbally.
  • Respect the other person, but clearly state your case.
  • Give the other person a chance to respond.
  • Leave the door open for future communication.

If you are being bullied, harassed, or discriminated against on the basis of your age, sex/gender, race/ethnicity, disability, sexual preference or family status, you may not feel comfortable approaching your supervisor directly.  In this case, you should consult the BC Human Rights Tribunal, your Co-op Coordinator, and/or the SFU Human Rights Office.

Beyond the Article

Posted on March 07, 2011