My Employer Isn't Paying My Wages

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This section is intended for non-unionized employees. For unionized employees, see the box below entitled "Tips & Notes".

As an employee, you are entitled to be paid for all of the hours that you worked, within a short period of time after completing the work. If you have worked overtime, you may be entitled to additional pay for the excess hours. You may also be entitled to pay for statutory holidays.

If you can't resolve a problem relating to unpaid wages directly with your employer, you generally have two options for taking action:

It is important to get legal advice about both of these options. This is important because once you have begun one of these processes, you may be legally prevented from switching to or using the other process. It is also important to understand which forum is best suited for your particular problem. Generally, the provincial ministry (i.e., Employment Standards Branch) will assist you in enforcing your rights under the the provincial Employment Standards Act. The federal ministry (i.e., Employment and Social Development Canada) will assist you in enforcing your rights under the Canada Labour Code. Courts generally do not allow you to start a court action if your problem can be addressed through the provincial or federal labour ministry. Rather, courts generally only deal with problems that fall outside of Employment Standards Act and Canada Labour Code.

This section will focus on how to make a claim through the provincial and federal labour ministries. Which ministry to make your claim through will depend on whether your employer is provincially regulated or federally regulated. Most employers are provincially regulated, but the following are federally regulated:

  • federal government and federal Crown corporations,
  • banks,
  • Indian bands and tribal councils, and
  • inter-provincial or international railways, airlines and transportation companies.
If you belong to a union, your rights generally depend on the collective agreement, and they are normally enforced by asking the union to pursue a grievance on your behalf. Talk to your shop steward or other union representative about any unpaid wages as soon as possible.

If your employer is provincially regulated[edit]

First steps[edit]

  1. Contact your employer and see if you can resolve the problem directly.
  2. Obtain a "Complaint Process Self-Help Kit" from the Employment Standards Branch of BC as soon as possible. The self-help kit is designed to help employees and employers solve workplace disputes quickly and fairly. It includes a Request for Payment form and a letter from the Employment Standards Branch for you to give to your employer.
  3. Your employer has fifteen (15) days to respond to your Request for Payment. If he or she does not, or the matter is not resolved, you can file a complaint form with the Employment Standards Branch. Note that you have six (6) months to file a complaint from the time the wages were not paid or your employment ended. If you are within thirty (30) days of the end of the six-month period, you should file your complaint with the Employment Standards Branch and then use the self-help kit to try and resolve the problem.

What happens next[edit]

On receiving your complaint, the Employment Standards Branch staff will investigate and offer to resolve your claim through mediation. If mediation does not work, it will be sent to a hearing before an adjudicator, who will hear from both sides and then make a decision called a determination.

If you are not satisfied with the determination of the adjudicator, you can appeal to the Employment Standards Tribunal or ask the tribunal for a reconsideration.

If your employer is federally regulated[edit]

First steps[edit]

  1. Contact your employer and see if you can resolve the problem directly.
  2. If your employer has not responded, or if the problem has not been resolved, obtain a "Complaint Form" from Service Canada. You must file the complaint within six (6) months of when your employer was required to pay you the amount.
To find out if your employer is federally regulated, call the Labour Program of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) at 1-800-641-4049.

What happens next[edit]

Your complaint will be reviewed by a Labour Program inspector, who will determine whether a violation has occurred. If you or your employer disagree with the findings, there will be an opportunity to provide more information before a final determination is made.

If you or your employer are not satisfied with the final determination, you can request a review to the Minister of Labour within fifteen (15) days after the notice was served. If, after the review, you or your employer remain unsatisfied, you can appeal to a referee.

Where to get help[edit]

See the Resource List for a list of helpful resources. Your best bets are:

Before meeting with a lawyer or advocate, complete the form Preparing for Your Interview included in this Guide. Make sure you bring copies of all documents relating to your case.

This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Trevor Thomas, March 2017.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence Legal Help for British Columbians © Cliff Thorstenson and Courthouse Libraries BC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence.