Your rights as employees in BC

Workers rights 300

Do you know them all?

By Chitwan Khosla, Features Editor

Summer is officially here. While some of us are attending college or planning a holiday, others are working. It is a nice time to take up few odd seasonal jobs and make some extra money. International students also get an opportunity at this time of the year to work full-time. As most of the young workers lack or do not have any high-skilled work experience, they are also unaware of their rights and duties as employees in British Columbia. This makes them vulnerable to exploitation. Exploitation includes many things like unpaid wages, unfair wage rates, delayed pay, unjust dismissals, or poor working conditions. To avoid such conditions, you should learn about your rights.

Your rights as employees are protected by the Employment Standards Act (ESA), Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Regulations, and by some of the regulations mentioned in the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA).

The Canadian Human Rights Act protects you against any form of prejudice, like discrimination based on your race and colour, religion, ethnicity, language, family status, sex, age, social condition, or marital status. It also calls for equal opportunities for all. This means that everyone should get a fair chance when applying at a job. To ensure this, appropriate and fair screening tests and interviews must be conducted. No questions regarding personal life or religion can be asked. The CHRA also protects every employee in Canada against any sort of sexual, physical, mental, or emotional harassment at the workplace.

The ESA establishes minimum terms and standards of employment such as minimum wage, overtime, paid leaves, and termination policies at the provincial level. These are also applicable to temporary foreign workers such as international students. Almost all non-unionized workers in BC are protected by ESA. While we are aware of the minimum wage rate in BC, most of us are not familiar with the other rules and regulations laid down by the ESA. Minimum wage rate is applicable regardless of how the workers are paid—in other words, whether they earn a salary, hourly wage, or work on commission. Workers must be paid at least twice a month and no pay period should be more than 16 days. The employees should be paid within eight days after the end of the pay period. The daily overtime pay is time-and-a-half after an eight-hour shift and double after a 12-hour shift. These rules ensure timely and fair pay to the workers in BC.

Meal breaks are also discussed in the ESA. No worker should work more than five consecutive hours without an unpaid 30-minute meal break. If the worker needs to be available to work during their break, the break should be paid. If you work for at least three consecutive months with your employer, then you are entitled to a week’s pay if you are terminated without a justified written notice of termination. The responsibility of proving a just termination lies upon the employer. Further, the ESA also enlists the paid statutory holidays applicable in BC. All employees can take certain unpaid leaves for a specified period without being terminated. For example, a worker can take up to three days of unpaid leave in case of death of an immediate family member.

Young students often take summer jobs in companies that do not have fixed hours of operation such as plumbing, landscaping, painting, and fishing. If the work is completed early or can be done with fewer workers, they are often sent back from work. However, ESA clearly states that any employee who reports to work must be paid for at least two hours, even if they worked less than two hours, and an employee who was scheduled for an eight-hour shift should be paid a minimum of four hours. Any uniforms or special clothing that identify with the employer or the organization, such as a T-shirt with the company’s logo, must be paid for by the employer. Any employer not following the above mentioned rules and regulations can be challenged in court or a complaint can be registered with the Ministry of Labour in BC. More information can be found on their official website.

The OHS Regulations aim to ensure safe and healthy working conditions for the employees in BC. The guidelines are mandatory to be followed by the employers and employees.

All the employers must educate their employees about every tool and piece of equipment at work. They must be told how to safely use, dispose of, and store the tools and other equipment required to perform the job. Records of training and any accidents at the workplace must be maintained. Employers must file reports to government about all the accidents or injuries that take place at work. The reports include what happened and how, who was injured, what treatment was done, and other details about the accidents. This is a required procedure even if it is minor cut on the hand of a chef in a restaurant kitchen. The employer should also ensure a clean and a hygienic workplace for their workers. Some industries also require the employers to get their workers insured.

Further, it is the responsibility of an individual to ensure their own and their colleagues’ safety at the workplace. All workers must take necessary precautions to avoid any risk to health and well-being.

One very crucial and important right of all the workers in BC is the right to refuse unsafe work without being terminated from your job. This can be done by Work Refusal Process. If your employer asks you to perform a task which you find endangers your or your colleagues’ safety, you can refuse to do it. You must first inform your immediate supervisor or manager who has to investigate and look if the work is potentially endangering your safety. If the manager agrees to your complaint, they must make sure that proper safety measurements are taken. If the manager doesn’t agree or if you still don’t feel doubtful even after the safety measures taken, you can still refuse to do the work. Then the work must be assessed in the presence of another worker. Both the manager and the second worker must agree if the task is dangerous or not. If not satisfied by the decision of both, you can further take the matter to the prevention manager of the nearest OHS center.

The prevention manager visits the workplace and assesses with the help of all the necessary tools and knowledge of the experts if the work can cause harm. If yes, then you are not required to the job and the employer needs to make adjustments for it. If not, you can take the matter to court as well.

All these laws and acts not only help to ensure a fair, safe, and harmonious work environment but also ensure the well-being of individuals by giving them opportunities to be more productive.