Working in BC
|This page is used in the Working in BC Lesson Module, a law-related ESL lesson for newcomers to Canada.|
This section looks at laws that apply to the workplace in British Columbia.
- 1 Accepting a job
- 2 BC employment standards
- 3 Losing your job
- 4 Quitting your job
- 5 Leave
- 6 Belonging to a union
- 7 Getting hurt on the job
- 8 Employment Insurance (EI)
- 9 Discrimination in employment
Accepting a job
When you accept a job, you enter into a legal agreement with your employer. This is called your employment contract. Your employer agrees to pay you a wage and provide other benefits and entitlements in return for your work.
The employment contract will typically set out things like how much vacation you get, any paid sick days you can take, and the rules around overtime.
Your employment contract might take the form of a written agreement you sign. Or it could be expressed in other ways. For example, it could be made up in part by a letter or email you receive from your employer before you start working, and in part by terms in an office policy manual or staff handbook. See the People’s Law School website for more on the employment contract.
BC employment standards
In BC there’s a law that protects the rights of workers. It’s called the Employment Standards Act. This law sets minimum standards for working conditions. It covers:
- certain aspects of hiring
- the minimum wage rate
- hours of work and overtime
- statutory holidays (and pay)
- certain leaves of absence (including maternity and parental leave)
- annual vacation (and pay)
- ending employment
We explain key parts of this law shortly.
The Employment Standards Branch administers this law. This is a government office that helps workers and employers resolve problems. The Branch can be reached at 1-800-663-3316 (toll-free).
Most workers are protected by employment standards law
The Employment Standards Act applies to employees. The definition of who is an employee is very broad. It’s intended to cover as many work relationships as possible.
But not everyone is covered by this law. The Act excludes some types of workers. For example, it doesn’t cover those working in certain licensed professions (such as architects, veterinarians and lawyers). It doesn’t cover babysitters or students working at their school or in work-study programs.
As well, independent contractors aren’t covered. Unlike employees, independent contractors are hired by the employer to perform a service. They are in business for themselves.
Some workers are covered by parts of the Act but not all of it. For example, farm workers are protected by some but not all sections of the Act.
See the People’s Law School website for more on who is covered by BC’s employment standards law.
Hours of work
Unless you have an averaging agreement with your employer (described in the next paragraph), your employer must pay you overtime after eight hours of work in one day, or more than 40 regular hours in one week.
If you agree, your employer may establish a "time bank" in which your overtime entitlement would be saved up and paid out at a later date. For more information, read the section called “Overtime Pay” or access the factsheet on the Employment Standards Branch website at www.labour.gov.bc.ca/esb.
Under an averaging agreement, you and your employer can enter into a written agreement that allows your employer to schedule your working time in a way that better meets the employer’s needs.
In effect, an averaging agreement allows your employer to compress your regularly scheduled work week into fewer, longer work days without paying the usual overtime.
To use a simple example: If you usually work 40 hours a week, on average, under a one-week averaging agreement, your employer could schedule you to work for 10 hours a day for the four busiest days of work. In this case, your 40-hour, five-day work week has been "averaged" to fit into four days of 10 hours each. No overtime is paid for the 10-hour days.
Averaging agreements can be complicated. To find out more contact the Employment Standards Branch or read the fact sheet on averaging agreements on the Employment Standards Branch website at www.labour.gov.bc.ca/esb.
Generally, your employer must pay you overtime:
- when you have no averaging agreement with your employer, and you are required to work more than eight hours in a day or more than 40 hours in a week, or
- when you do have an averaging agreement with your employer, and your employer asks you to work more hours in a day than you agreed to in the averaging agreement.
The amount of overtime pay you get depends on the number of extra hours you work. You must be paid overtime after eight hours of work in one day. Your employer must pay you one-and-a-half times your regular pay for each hour you work after eight hours. This is called time-and-a-half.
Your employer must pay you two times your regular pay for each hour you work after 12 hours. This is called double-time.
The Employment Standards Branch website has more information about the complicated overtime rules at www.labour.gov.bc.ca/esb.
Minimum daily pay
If you come to work as your employer asks you to do, you must be paid for at least two hours at your regular wage, even if you work less. If you have an averaging agreement and you agreed to work more than eight hours in a day, you must be paid for at least four hours, even if you work less.
If you come to work but you are unfit to work because for example you have been drinking or because you forgot your safety equipment, your employer does not need to pay you minimum daily pay.
You can work for five hours without a break. After five hours, your employer has to give you a break of at least 30 minutes. An employer who requires an employee to work or be available for work during a meal break must count the meal break as time worked by the employee. Employers are not required to provide coffee breaks.
Holidays you get paid for
There are ten public holidays in BC. They are called statutory holidays because the Employment Standards Act says they are holidays. Statute is another name for a law made by the government.
Normally, on a statutory holiday, you take the day off work but you still get paid. The statutory holidays are:
- New Year's Day
- Family Day
- Good Friday
- Victoria Day
- Canada Day
- British Columbia Day
- Labour Day
- Thanksgiving Day
- Remembrance Day
- Christmas Day
Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, and Boxing Day are not statutory holidays, though many employers will offer employees a day off with pay on those dates.
To get paid for the statutory holiday, you must:
- have been employed for at least 30 calendar days, and
- have worked on at least 15 of the 30 days before the statutory holiday.
If you work under an averaging agreement any time in the 30 days before the statutory holiday, you automatically have the right to the statutory holiday.
There are different payment rules which apply if you are required to work on a statutory holiday. The Employment Standards Branch website has information about this at www.labour.gov.bc.ca/esb.
After your first 12 months of employment, employers have to give you at least two weeks paid vacation every year. If you have worked for the same employer for five years or more, your employer has to give you three weeks paid vacation every year. Usually you must take your vacation within 12 months of earning it. You may take it in periods of one or more weeks. Statutory holidays are in addition to annual vacation.
If you leave your job before you use up your vacation, your employer still has to pay you for that unused vacation time.
Losing your job
The BC Employment Standards Act does not remove an employer's right to terminate a worker.
The Act requires that workers who are terminated are entitled to receive written notice or compensation based on length of service:
- after three consecutive months of employment – one week's pay,
- after 12 consecutive months of employment – two weeks' pay, and
- after three consecutive years – three weeks' pay, plus one week's pay for each additional year of employment to a maximum of eight weeks.
- For example: Chui worked in a large store for four months. After Christmas, her employer said, "Today is your last day." She gave Chui one week’s extra pay.
The employer is not required to pay compensation if a worker is given advance written notice of termination equal to the number of weeks for which the worker is eligible. This notice must be in writing.
You may be entitled to more than these minimum requirements, because the notice you get must be “reasonable.” Whether you are entitled to the minimum or a larger amount will also depend on your employment contract.
Getting fired for "just cause"
Workers can lose their job without notice or compensation if they do something seriously wrong. This is called being fired for “just cause.” Examples of when an employer might have just cause to fire a worker are if the worker is dishonest about something important, steals from the employer, or repeatedly breaches a clear workplace policy or rule.
Getting laid off
Sometimes an employer does not have enough work for their workers or does not have money to pay the bills. The employer might lay off the workers for a few weeks.
A layoff is usually temporary. The employer doesn’t have to tell you ahead of time. If the layoff lasts longer than 13 weeks in a 20-week period, it means your employment has ended.
If the layoff is permanent and your employment has ended, the employer must give you compensation.
Quitting your job
Workers can quit a job any time. It is usual to give your employer notice that you are quitting. Two weeks of notice is considered customary but is not required by the Employment Standards Act.
If you can, giving plenty of notice that you are quitting is a good idea especially if you want your employer to give a good report about you when you apply for another job. This is called giving a reference.
It is important to note that if you quit your job, or if you are fired for misconduct, you will usually not be eligible to receive Employment Insurance (EI) benefits.
You can find out more about the laws about working in BC by looking at the Guide to the Employment Standards Act. This guide is online at www.labour.gov.bc.ca/esb/esaguide.
A working pregnant woman has legal rights. For example, she can take up to 17 weeks off work without pay. This is called pregnancy leave.
Pregnancy leave can begin up to 13 weeks before the expected birth date. After the 17 weeks, she may be able to extend the leave for six more weeks for reasons related to the pregnancy.
An employer can’t fire a woman because she is pregnant. And when she returns to work, she must get back her old job or a similar job for at least the same pay.
A working pregnant woman can apply for money from Employment Insurance during her pregnancy. There are rules about when a woman can apply and how much time she can have.
Family responsibility leave
A worker is entitled to up to five days of unpaid leave during each employment year to meet responsibilities related to the care, health or education of an immediate family member.
A worker is entitled to up to three days of unpaid leave on the death of a member of the worker's immediate family.
For more information on leaves read the "Leaves Factsheet" on the Employment Standards website at www.labour.gov.bc.ca/esb.
Belonging to a union
A union is a group of workers who join together to negotiate wages and working conditions with the employer. Everyone has the right to form a union if most of the workers want a union. Unions are for the protection of workers.
Your union and your employer will talk together. They will decide about pay, vacation time, sick pay, and other benefits. This is called collective bargaining. They will write a contract. This is called a collective agreement.
The collective agreement sets out your rights and working conditions. If you have a problem with your employer, talk to the union. The union will meet with the employer to discuss the concerns.
There are some rules for unions. The rules say what unions can and can’t do. In BC, this law is called the Labour Relations Code.
Getting hurt on the job
Sometimes workers get hurt on the job. Workers' compensation is a program run by WorkSafeBC. This program helps workers who are injured or get sick because of their work.
WorkSafeBC makes safety rules and sends inspectors to most workplaces to check if they are safe. Employers pay for this protection. There is no cost to workers.
Workers who can’t work because of an accident at work or illness may get money from the workers' compensation program. If a worker dies at work, the family may get compensation. The WorkSafeBC website is at worksafebc.com.
Employment Insurance (EI)
Employment Insurance (EI) is a federal government insurance program that all workers and employers pay into. It is often known just by its initials: EI.
EI is meant to help workers when they lose their jobs, or need time off work.
You have to work a certain number of weeks before you can apply for benefits.
There are several types of Employment Insurance benefits:
- Regular benefits are for people who lose their jobs through no fault of their own.
- Maternity and parental benefits are for those who are pregnant, have recently given birth, are adopting a child, or are caring for a newborn.
- Sickness benefits are for people who cannot work because of sickness or injury.
- Caregiving benefits are for people who have to provide care or support to a family member who is critically ill or injured or requires end-of-life care.
To apply for EI benefits, you need to fill out an application for EI at a Service Canada Centre or online at canada.ca/ei.
- Service Canada Centre
- Vancouver: 1-800-622-6232
Call your local Service Canada Centre to find out if you need to make an appointment. They might ask you for your postal code to find out which office you should go to.
When you go, you should take:
- your Social Insurance Card and proof of your immigration status,
- a second piece of identification, with your photo if possible, like your passport or driver’s licence, and
- your Record of Employment (ROE), if you have it, from every place you worked in the last 12 months.
If you do not speak English or French, take someone who can translate for you.
- Note: If you want to get regular EI benefits, be sure to apply as soon as you lose your job. Apply even if you do not yet have your Record of Employment (ROE). If you delay applying for benefits for more than four weeks after your last day of work, you may lose benefits.
If you lost your job because you quit or got fired, it will be difficult to get EI benefits. Check with your EI office for the number of weeks you need to have worked in your area. The federal government website also provides details at canada.ca/ei.
Discrimination in employment
In Canada, there are laws to protect workers from discrimination. For example, an employer is expected to hire workers on the basis of skills, experience and education needed for the job.
It is discrimination if an employer doesn't give a job because of your gender, age, race, religion, birthplace, sexual orientation (gay, bisexual, or straight), marital or family status (single, married, or living common-law), mental or physical disability, or because you have a criminal record for an offence that is unrelated to the job you are applying for.
There are also laws to protect you against discrimination while you are on the job.
British Columbia Human Rights Code
The BC Human Rights Code applies to all businesses, agencies, and services in BC. The Code protects people from discrimination in many areas of daily life, including discrimination in the workplace.
To make a complaint under the Code about discrimination in the workplace, the following must usually be true:
- you have been singled out and treated differently and poorly, compared to others, and
- you are being treated differently and poorly because of a personal characteristic, such as your race, colour, religious belief, gender, mental or physical disability, or sexual orientation.
For information about the Human Rights Code and how to file a human rights complaint, you can contact the BC Human Rights Clinic.
- BC Human Rights Clinic
- 300 - 1140 West Pender Street
- Vancouver BC V6E 4G1
Where do you file a complaint?
The BC Human Rights Tribunal is where you can make a complaint that someone has discriminated against you under the Code. The tribunal’s job is to resolve human rights complaints in a way that is fair to the person who made the complaint and the person whom the complaint is against.
- BC Human Rights Tribunal
- Vancouver: 604-775-2000
- Toll-free: 1-888-440-8844
How do you file a complaint?
To file a complaint you need to get a complaint form, fill it out, and file it with the tribunal within one year of the incident. These materials are available online at bchrt.bc.ca.
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by People's Law School, 2019.|
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