10 Things Your Boss Can’t Legally Do in Canada

As an employee, a time may come when you feel uncomfortable with the actions or decisions of your employer. It can be difficult to speak up and voice your concerns since we all rely on an income. This feeling of helplessness becomes substantially more burdensome when you are not aware of your rights and your boss or employer is able to take advantage of you in ways that are illegal.

This article will highlight 10 of the most egregious actions by your employer that are not allowed in Canada and can be deemed illegal. 

1. Reduce your hours

The first step is to look at the terms of your employment with your employer. If there is a clear expectation that you will work a certain number of hours per week, or a certain number of days, then it is reasonable to expect that this is a fundamental term of your agreement

In most cases, an employer does not have the right to unilaterally alter this fundamental term. 

For example, if you were hired to work in a full-time capacity, and your employer cuts your hours such that you are now a part-time employee, this would be considered illegal. Accordingly, you would have the ability to claim you have been constructively dismissed.

2. Cut your pay 

If your employer seeks to reduce your hours, then it is likely that your pay will be reduced commensurately. At times, your employer may also simply seek to reduce/cut your pay while making you work the same hours you always had. Put simply, your employer cannot lower your compensation, regardless of the reason. 

In most cases, a reduction in your compensation will trigger a constructive dismissal. This logic may not apply in cases of discretionary or incentive-based bonuses. 

3. Demote you or change your role 

Similar to the above, your job title or role within the hierarchy of your company can be considered a fundamental term of your agreement. Therefore, if your employer either demotes you or fundamentally alters the nature of your role, this would be considered illegal. Learn more about why employee demotions are considered illegal. 

4. Harass you

While this may not be explicitly outlined in either your verbal or written agreement with your employer, it is an implied term that you must be treated with “dignity and respect”. 

Oftentimes, we may feel that certain types of actions, commentary, or decisions in the workplace is unwelcome and, therefore, harassment. It is important to understand that there is a distinction between what we may personally view a harassment versus what is legally deemed to be harassment. Read more about harassment in the workplace.  

The following are just some examples of what can be viewed as workplace harassment:

  • Inappropriate, unwelcome, or hurtful remarks about race, religion, sex, age, or any other grounds of discrimination;
  • Unwelcome physical contact; 
  • Sexual harassment; 
  • Intimidation; 
  • Being disciplined in front of others; and
  • Violence

Assessing whether workplace harassment has occurred is done on a case-by-case basis. Before suggesting to your employer that you have been constructively dismissed, it is best to consult with a lawyer first.  

5. Punish you for voicing your concerns

It is illegal for an employer to punish you for voicing your concerns. and especially for voicing your concerns regarding workplace harassment that you have either witnessed or experienced yourself. Find out more about Reprisal or Wrongful Dismissal.

If your employer suddenly begins treating you in a hostile manner, unexpectedly gives you a negative performance review, punishes you, demotes you, or fires you as a response to you voicing a concern, this could be considered a “reprisal”. 

6. Discriminate against you

An employee has the right to a discrimination-free workplace. The most common forms of discrimination are based on one’s race, religion, gender, age, ancestry, place of origin, colour, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender expression, record of offences, marital status, family status or disability. 

An employee cannot be treated unjustly or receive worse treatment due to any of the above factors. This includes the hiring and termination process as well. 

If you believe that your wages, hours, work assigned, evaluations, discipline, lack of promotions, or general treatment in the workplace is due to the discrimination of your employer, then you can not only argue that you have been constructively dismissed, but that you are entitled to damages for injury to your dignity and self-worth. Read more about discrimination in the workplace.

7. Force you to come back from a sick leave

An employer cannot force you to return to work if you are on a sick leave. More specifically, an employer cannot force you to take any action that is contrary to what your doctor has prescribed to you. 

If you are unable to work, you have an obligation to provide your employer with a doctor’s note. 

Either in response to a potential sick leave, a doctor’s note, or during a sick leave, it is illegal for your employer to:

  • Question your illness or disability;
  • Require you to disclose your medical condition or documentation;
  • Prohibit you from taking time off work; 
  • Punish or threaten you in some manner for taking time off; 
  • Treat your medical leave, no matter how long, as a resignation or job abandonment.

8. Force you to quit 

An employer cannot force you to do something that gives you no choice but to quit. In other words, if you believe you are left with no other choice but to quit, then it is important to speak with a lawyer to review your case. Often these issues must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Learn more about forced resignation, if you are told to resign or otherwise be fired.

If your employer treats you in a manner that suggests they no longer intend to comply with your employment agreement, then it is possible you can argue you have been constructively dismissed

9. Temporarily lay you off

In almost all circumstances, a temporary layoff can be considered a termination. While you can of course opt to wait to be recalled (without the guarantee that you will be), you can also choose to treat your layoff as a termination. Learn more about temporary layoffs. 

10. Not pay you severance if you are terminated 

If you are terminated, in most cases, an employer is obligated to pay you severance pay. Upon termination, an employer may put pressure on you to sign termination paperwork. Read more about Severance Package: Beware of Employer Pressure & Time Limit for Signing. While this is not illegal, if an employer threatens to withhold your termination entitlements if you do not sign the termination paperwork, that can be deemed illegal.

This was written by Boris Alexander, Employment Lawyer at Monkhouse Law. Monkhouse Law is an employment law firm in Toronto with a focus on workers’ issues.

If you find your boss or employer is treating you in any of the above ways, or you wish to learn more about your rights, we recommend that you contact us to speak to a lawyer about your specific circumstances. Give us a call at 416-907-9249 or fill out this quick form. We offer a free 30-minute phone consultation.

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