What You Should Know About Working In Canada

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Whether you’re a seasoned employee or a rookie, there are things that you should know about being a Canadian employee.

Thanks to popular American legal dramas and media in general, many misconceptions about workplace rights abound.

Aaron Rousseau, an experienced employment lawyer at Whitten & Lublin, offered to help us clear things up.

What should every employee know about working in Canada?

You’re probably entitled to much more notice of termination – or pay in lieu of notice – than you think

“A lot of people use information they’ve run into in the media or from friends, and it’s often about American rules which are usually the diametric opposite of Canadian rules,” says Aaron. “There’s a lot of misunderstanding. People usually have a much a much greater entitlement than they think.”

Most of the time, employees can be terminated for no good reason

“It could be the employer just feels that things aren’t working out the way they’d hoped. It could be that they want to make some cutbacks. Or it could be that the employer is unhappy with you personally,” he says. “It’s very rare that that’s actually going to be a just cause situation though.”

Normally, with non-unionized, provincially-regulated employees, the employer doesn’t need to have good reason for termination. Still, whatever the quality of the reason is, you may be entitled to some compensation.

If you have a written contract, it may contain clauses that are not lawful and not enforceable

Let’s say your contract states that you can be terminated on two weeks’ notice. “That is not going to be enforceable in any province in Canada, or federally, because it’s going to fall below the minimum in terms of what’s prescribed by various pieces of legislation – typically a provincial Employment Standards Act, or federally the Canada Labour Code,” he explains.

It’s a little like being below minimum wage, except that instead of getting bumped up in wage, you usually get a more generous entitlement called reasonable notice, he says.

For those of you just entering the workforce:

What should every new employee know about working in this country?

  1. Your employer is probably not allowed to restrict you from working for a competitor after you leave.
  2. You are usually entitled to be paid for time that you spend in training.
  3. Regardless of what your contract or your boss says, you’re usually entitled to overtime pay.

How can employees protect themselves and what steps should they take if they feel they are being treated unfairly?

Document everything

“Keep a journal that details any unfair treatment that you think you’ve suffered,” Aaron advises. “If you think that you’re not being paid for your hours, keep a record of your hours. If you think that you are being subjected to discrimination and racialized comments are being made, write down what was said, when it was said and anybody else that would have been present to hear it.”

Keeping a record of what has happened suggests that you didn’t make it up. It will also ensure that, even as your memories fade, you will have something to help you remember details later on.

Get professional help

While going to an employment lawyer is a good option, Aaron recognizes that it may not be affordable for everyone. In these cases, there are free resources that are available to you.

“The Ministry of Labour in your province is a good resource. They can’t do everything that a lawyer can, but they can do some things. The Human Rights Tribunal or Human Rights Commission is another resource if there’s a human rights issue. If you are a student or if you are on low income, there may be a free community clinic that can help you,” he says.

“For example, if you’re at a university that has a law school, there’s usually a legal clinic that’s staffed by law students that will help you. But there are also community legal clinics around the province that do some of this stuff.”

Whatever your situation may be, don’t be afraid to get help and advice.

Photo credit: and parsecs to go

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About the author

Tuen Mun Ong is a writer with TalentEgg. She received her H.B.Sc. in human biology from the University of Toronto and has a strong interest in health care, community, and culture. She’s not on Twitter, but you can easily find her on LinkedIn or in the real world. If you have a story you'd like to share, feel free to send her a message on LinkedIn.