Employment Standards in Canada: Meeting the Minimum

Akiva Stern, BHRM, MIRHR

HR AID Employment Solutions


Akiva Stern is Sole Proprietor of HR AID. HR AID is an employment consulting company devoted to helping employees and small business owners easily access employment and labour information as well as helping to resolve their employment issues. Akiva is currently enrolled in the JD/MBA program at the University of Windsor.



Back in the day, employment contracts were very simple. Two people could contract whatever kind of relationship they wanted. End of story. This unfortunately didn’t always work out well given that people who need to work often don’t have as much bargaining power as the people who tend to be able to provide work. So naturally the Government stepped in to set certain minimum standards with regards to the terms of employment that cannot be breached. We’re talking the mandatory bare minimum. Let’s take a look…


The Cautionary Tale


Julie was a recent graduate who was having a hard time finding a job. She had been applying for three months but no one was looking for a Liberal Arts Major at this time. Some Employers loved her personality but were simply not able or willing to take on another employee. One particular interview went exceptionally well. Her interviewer, Benedict said that he loved her commitment to her work and seemed really enthusiastic, but unfortunately, the money just was not there. Julie got fed up and begged Benedict to reconsider. She even said she would agree to getting paid less and give up her vacation days! After all she was desperate for a job…


What are my employment standards?


Every Province has their own set of employment standards. In Ontario for example these are contained in the Employment Standards Act. Each act will cover many topics such as the minimum hourly wage you can pay someone, to how much vacation time he or she is owed. For example, as of October 1, 2015, the minimum hourly wage an employer can pay an employee in Ontario is $11.25 (certain exceptions apply). An employer is always welcome to pay more but under no circumstances can they do less than the minimums set out under each category within the Act.

Unionized employees are technically also bound by employment standards however they must usually follow procedures set out by the Unions based on their collective contract. This is known as a Grievance but we will touch on that perhaps at another time. Employment Standards bind all employers regardless of size, with very few exceptions (Severance, emergency leave).


Some of the more common topics covered in employment standard acts include:


  • Wages
  • Hours of Work
  • Overtime
  • Vacation
  • Public Holidays
  • Benefits
  • Pregnancy and Parental Leave
  • Emergency Leave
  • Termination of Employment
  • Severance Pay


So if you feel like your not getting your vacation pay or are not sure if something in your contract is fair, a good start is to look up the act in your Province and see what the mandatory minimum is. (Or contact a service like HR Aid who can guide you through the process and give you general information about your local laws)

This Chart lays out some of the key aspects rather nicely.


Keep in mind 

  • Stay clear of relationships that try to bypass these standards
  • An employer and employee CANNOT opt out of these minimum standards.
  • If you notice a standard being infringed keep a record of the events.
  • If you feel comfortable enough, approach your boss or supervisor and discuss the issue one-on-one to see if you can resolve the problem.
  • If you are still having trouble seek help through your government website.
  • Employment standards is a complaint-based process, so you will activity have to file an employment standards claim.
  • Filing an employment standards claim is relatively simple and does not require a lawyer.
  • If an enquiry is done and a breach of standard is found, the government will require the business owners to pay the difference.
  • Orders to management who are in violation of a claim can range in nature but can include penalty tickets to employee reimbursements.



These standards are put in place to protect you and are mandatory across Canada. No lawyer is needed and you can quickly file a claim on your government website to investigate the potential breach. If a breach is found they will represent you to recover it at no cost.


For the employment standards of your particular Province click here.

For information related to filing a claim in Ontario click here.


*Some exceptions apply; see above link for more details.

**The above is Information regarding Labour and Employment Issues and is not to be considered advice or instructions pertaining to individual or specific employment situations.


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