flag of BCBritish Columbia, like most Canadian provinces, has passed a law which sets out basic, minimum requirements for employers; aka employment standards.

The main purpose of the Employment Standards Act is to make sure that British Columbia workers receive at least minimum standards of wages and terms of employment. To accomplish this, the Act establishes basic rights for employees and obligations for employers.

The Employment Standards Act applies to most employees and employers in British Columbia. Exceptions include employees whose jobs come under federal labour legislation and those employees specifically excluded under the Act or its regulations.

The Act applies to both full time and part time workers regardless of the number of hours that they work.

Some occupations which fall under provincial jurisdiction are not covered under the Act; for example, doctors, lawyers, architects, dentists, insurance agents, chartered accountants and realtors.

Other exclusions include sitters, secondary school students working at their schools, newspaper carriers who attend school and work 15 hours a week or less, and persons receiving government financial assistance who participate in certain government-sponsored employment programs.

washroom checklistEmployees who belong to unions are covered by collective bargaining agreements negotiated by their union and the employer. Collective agreements have as their basis the minimum standards set out in the Employment Standards Act. All collective agreements must meet or exceed the minimum standards of the Act . If they do not, then the Act would apply.

The Act also creates two government agencies to ensure that the Act is respected. The first is a "director of employment standards" (which we'll refer to as the "Director") and the second is an "Employment Standards Tribunal."

One of the most important protections offered by the Act is a minimum wage, which all employers are required to pay. The minimum wage can be adjusted by regulation. As of July 31, 2008, the minimum hourly wage was between $6 and $8.00.

Minimum wages for live-in home support workers, resident caretakers and farm workers who harvest certain fruit and vegetable crops are set out in government regulations published under the authority of the Act.

Some of the basic provisions of the Act are:

  • A prohibition against hiring of persons under 15 years old except with the permission of the Director.
  • Nor can you sell a job by requiring a candidate for employment to pay for the privilege. Employment agencies are licensed.
  • Domestic helpers have a right to an employment contract which must state the duties, the hours of work, the wages and, if applicable, any charges for room and board. Charges for room and board cannot exceed a set amount.
  • Employees have a right to semimonthly paychecks within eight days after the end of the pay period.image of Roger the lawyer
  • Pay must be in cash (Canadian currency), by cheque or money order payable on demand or by direct deposit.
  • Discretionary employer deductions are prohibited; all deductions must be permitted by a law of Canada or BC (called statutory deductions. Examples include employment insurance and income tax deductions).
  • Employers must honour employee-approved deductions (assignment of part of their wages). Examples include union dues or pension contributions.
  • Employees are entitled to wage statements which shows the detail of their earnings including any deductions. Employers must also maintain payroll records and retain these for seven years after the employment is terminated.
  • If special clothing is required by the employer, the employer must provide the clothing and pay for the cleaning and repair of the clothing. The Act does allow for an agreement between the employer and "a majority of the affected employees" that the latter clean and repair the work clothes.
  • Employees are allowed a 30-minute meal break every 5 hours.
  • Overtime pay (150% of regular wages) kicks in for time over 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week.
  • Once an employee has worked for an employer for 30 calendar days, the employee is entitled to statutory holidays with pay. There are 9 statutory holidays in British Columbia: New Year's Day, Good Friday, Victoria Day, Canada Day, British Columbia Day, Labour Day, Thanksgiving Day, Remembrance Day and Christmas Day (Easter Sunday, Easter Monday and Boxing Day are not statutory holidays).
  • Pregnant employees are allowed up to 18 weeks off to deliver and care for their new baby.
  • Employees are allowed up to 5 days of unpaid leave to meet family responsibilities.
  • Three days of unpaid bereavement leave are allowed for the loss of immediate family.
  • Once an employee has been on the job for 12 consecutive months, they are entitled to 2 weeks paid vacation leave. This jumps to 3 weeks after 5 years service.
  • Severance pay is one week's wages for an employee with at least three months consecutive service; 1 week's wages for each consecutive years service after that. In other words, for 5 years consecutive service, the severance pay would be 5 weeks' wages, but up to a maximum of eight weeks' wages.
  • Back-pay must be paid within 48 hours of dismissal or, if it is the employee that quits, within 6 days.

The Act allows a group of employees to approve some (but not all) variance with the minimum requirements of the Act.

The Director has investigative powers and can impose a powerful lien on the assets of an employer to ensure the payment of wages.

The Act also requires the posting of a conspicuous notice, in each work place, a statement of the employees' rights under the Act.

For more information about the Employment Standards Act, visit the web site of the B.C. Ministry of Labour Employment Standards Branch.