Chapter 2: The Legal Environment in Canada

2.3 Employment Standards in Canada

Human Resource Management Day to Day

Paul works at a warehouse in Richmond, B.C. He has been scheduled to work on Easter Sunday, and is excited as his friends have told him that he will be entitled to double time, meaning he will be paid twice his normal hourly rate. He is sad that he won’t be able to join in an Easter egg hunt with his children, but clearly the benefits of accepting the shift outweigh the negatives. Later that week, when he receives his paycheque, he sees his extra pay was not included so he brings the error to his supervisor’s attention. His supervisor, startled, replies that Easter Sunday isn’t actually a statutory holiday, so Paul is not entitled to any extra pay.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to

  1. Provide an overview of the types of clauses typically included in Employment Standards Acts.

Employment standards are the minimum standards that an employer must comply with. While unionized employees usually receive more than the minimum standards, a collective agreement can never provide for less than required in the Employment Standards Act, so the standards apply to both union and non-union employees. The precise standards vary from province to province, but most jurisdictions in Canada address:

  • Documentation and record retention
  • Minimum wage
  • Minimum age
  • Meal and rest breaks
  • Minimum/maximum shift lengths
  • Uniforms and clothing
  • Annual vacation and vacation pay
  • Notice provisions
  • Payroll deductions

That said, there are sometimes exceptions to all of these, depending on an employer’s industry or an employee’s role. For instance, some work environments don’t have a “standard” day – that could include farm workers who harvest crops, coders working in technology firms, long-haul truckers, or individuals who live in camp and work in silviculture or the oil patch.

Industries with Special Rules in British Columbia

While the minimum standards apply to most employees, many industries have exemptions to things like overtime pay, minimum wage, and statutory-holiday pay. These industries include the following:

  • High technology
  • Agriculture
  • Trucking
  • Silviculture
  • Oil and gas
  • Resident caretakers
  • Commission sales

 Record Keeping

Employers must keep records, in English, for all their employees and they must retain those records for a specified period after an employee’s employment ends. In B.C., records must be retained for a minimum of two years after an employee’s employment ends. Records that must be retained include the following:

  • Personal data (name, date of birth, phone, address)
  • Key dates
  • Wage rates and structure, as well as benefits
  • Records of payments and deductions, including holidays and vacation
  • Time bank data
  • Reimbursements (e.g., cleaning uniform)
Jurisdiction BC AB ON NS YK
Table 2.1 Comparison of statutory holidays in Canada by province.
January 1, New Year X X X X X
A day in February X X X
Good Friday X X X X X
Easter Sunday and Monday
Victoria Day X X X X
Canada Day X X X X X
August 1 X
AUG 15 Discovery Day X
Labour Day X X X X X
Thanksgiving X X X X
Remembrance Day X X X* X
Christmas Day X X X X X
Boxing Day X

Statutory Holidays

Statutory holidays vary from province to province. In some jurisdictions, Remembrance Day is a statutory holiday, and in others, it isn’t. This means that employees who have worked a certain number of hours would be entitled to be paid on the holiday, even if your business is closed. If your business is open on the holiday, they could be entitled to overtime pay in addition to another paid day off in lieu of the holiday.

Compensation for Length of Service

In Canada, you cannot fire someone without “just cause” and without notice. If an employee hasn’t done anything wrong, you must give most employees a certain amount of notice that their job will be terminated, and the amount of notice is usually calculated according to a standard formula. This gives employees an opportunity to find work before they are without a paycheque. It should be noted that common-law provisions for the amount of notice is generally much greater than that provided for in the Employment Standards Act. If an entire business is closing or restructuring, there may be additional notice requirements.

Compensation for Length of Service

As of January 2017, the length of notice required for terminating an employee in B.C. is:

  • After three months – one week;
  • After 12 months – two weeks;
  • After three years – one week for each completed year of employment, to a maximum of eight weeks.

Minimum Wage in Canada

Minimum wages vary across Canada, but even within a province there can be differences. Some provinces have a “training wage,” which is lower than the minimum, for workers who are just entering the work force and have no prior work experience. Some provinces have a special minimum wage for servers, and in some industries, like agriculture, individuals may be paid by the pound of products harvested, rather than an hourly wage.

Table 2.2 Minimum Wage, Comparison by Province, July 2016
  BC Alberta Ontario Yukon
Basic Minimum Wage 10.45 $11.20 $11.25 $11.07
Different wage based on age 500 hour training wage (repealed in 2011) $10.55 for students under 18 yrs old
Different based on hospitality $9.20 for liquor servers $10.70 for liquor servers $9.80 for liquor servers
Live-in domestic help Daily rate = min wage x 10 hours Fixed monthly amount $2127 Daily rate = min wage x 12-15 hours 8 hours x min wage for each day worked

Key Takeaways

  • Each jurisdiction in Canada has their own set of laws outlining the minimum standards that must be kept by employers. These Employment Standards acts vary across the country, but generally include provisions around documentation and record retention, minimum wage, minimum age of workers, meal and rest breaks, minimum and maximum shift lengths, uniforms and clothing, annual vacation and vacation pay, notice provisions, and payroll deductions.


  1. You manage a fast-food franchise. You want to hire your friend’s daughter, who is 14 years old. She is very mature for her age—responsible, cheerful, and a hard worker. She will be supervised by the shift leader, who is 18 years old and has worked there for two years. She will work approximately 9 hours per week, in three three-hour shifts after school. Look up your employment standards act to determine whether this is a legal arrangement.
  2. Kathy shows up for her scheduled four-hour shift at a restaurant. Things are really slow, and the employer wants to send someone home. He asks who would like to go home; Kathy volunteers because she has family in town. She leaves after “working” for 45 minutes. How much time will she be paid for? What if, in this scenario, her shift had been an eight-hour shift? Would that make a difference?
  3. George is working a 5.5-hour shift. Is he entitled to any breaks? Would they be paid or unpaid?
  4. Johnston worked as a voting officer in the provincial election. He worked from 7:15 a.m. to 9:15 p.m. on May 12, 2009. He also worked for two hours on May 7. He complained to the Employment Standards Branch that the employer had breached the Employment Standards Act. Is a 14-hour shift “excessive”?
  5. Timothy started working for Cozy Hotels on April 24, 2016. Timothy works from Saturday to Wednesday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Good Friday falls on Friday, March 25, and Easter falls on Sunday, March 27, 2016. What is he entitled to in terms of pay for the statutory holiday?


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Introduction to Human Resource Management - First Canadian Edition Copyright © 2017 by Zelda Craig and College of New Caledonia is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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