British Columbia’s Employment Standards Act is the baseline of all employers’ obligations (unless your business falls in the federal realm – more on that below) towards employees and is mandatory knowledge for new employers.
Some employers, by virtue of what they do, fall within the federal jurisdiction and so their obligations are set out in the Canada Labour Code. Generally speaking, it is relatively rare for an employer to fall in the federal realm as the list of such businesses is fairly short – banks, railways, airlines, interprovincial trucking, etc.
There is far too much content in the Act to summarize it all here. Suffice to say that the Act (and Regulations) form a comprehensive structure for how employees must be hired, paid, scheduled, given time off, compensated for “extras” such as overtime and statutory holidays, provided various leaves of absence, and terminated.
If I had to boil the Act down to 5 key aspects, I’d say they are as follows.
Employers have a tendency to try to duplicate provisions of the Act in their policy manual. My advice to employers on that topic is, “don’t bother”.
A lengthy policy manual created in an attempt to mimic the local employment standards rules is bound to be a disaster. These attempts routinely misstate the legislative content, resulting in confusion and possible statutory liability.
Duplicating legislative content also creates more work for human resources staff as they must constantly update the manual to keep up with legislative changes. The employment standards rules seem to change significantly as time passes and so, as a result, policy manuals setting out legislative rules become obsolete very quickly.
If you must refer to a statute in your policies, simply state that the particular topic will be administered in accordance with the applicable statute as it may be amended from time to time.
As I call it, the “Golden Rule” of employment standards legislation is that employees cannot “contract out” of their statutory rights.
This means that asking an employee to agree, verbally or in writing or in any other format, to accept something less than what the Act says he/she is entitled to is futile. Common examples I’ve seen include asking the employee to agree that his/her hourly wage includes vacation pay, asking him/her to forego statutory holiday pay, and asking him/her to agree to pay costs of the business (such as reimbursing the employer for costs of theft).
These maneuvers will not fly with the Employment Standards Branch or Tribunal so my advice to you is, don’t bother trying. If your business is unionized, however, different rules apply.
There is much, much more about the Act which employers must know and comply with, and your employment lawyer will happily assist with advising you on those topics. But, a great starting point is the B.C. Employment Standards Branch website located at: www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/employment-business/employment-standards-advice/employment-standards
On the website, look for “Fact Sheets” and “Guide To The Employment Standards Act”. Those items will provide you with just about everything you could possibly want to know.
This item is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal advice. Informed legal advice should always be obtained about your specific circumstances.