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Canadian employment law

In Canada, the power to make laws is divided between the federal and provincial governments. Generally, for historic, constitutional reasons, provinces have jurisdiction over most employment matters, while the federal government has jurisdiction over employment only in respect of specific industries, such as airways, shipping and banks.

Employment law in Canada is quite similar from province to province and is governed by both federal and provincial legislation as well as by the common law (judge-made law). Quebec is the notable exception to this rule, as Quebec operates under a civil law system based on a written “civil code” founded on France’s Napoleonic Code.


Key Points

  • “Employment law” concerns the relationship between an individual and an employer, while “labour law” regulates the collective representation of employees by trade unions.
  • There is no “at will” employment in Canada. Dismissed employees are entitled to notice of termination or pay in lieu of notice, unless employment was terminated “for cause”.
  • Provincial employment standards legislation establishes minimum standards for wages, vacation, leaves, notice of termination and severance. However, the common law provides greater entitlements upon termination and can otherwise regulate the employment relationship.
  • Employment contracts can be used to set out the terms of employment for non-union employees. Provided that the contract’s terms do not violate applicable statutory minimum requirements, the terms of the contract will displace the common law. As such, employers are encouraged to utilise written employment agreements, particularly with respect to entitlements upon termination.
  • All jurisdictions have legislation prohibiting discriminatory practices and harassment in the workplace. Employers have significant positive obligations to ensure equality in the workplace.

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Filion Wakely Thorup Angeletti
Bay Adelaide Centre
333 Bay Street
Suite 2500 Box 44
M5H 2R2 Toronto
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Also with offices in Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo and London (ON)

+1 416 408 3221

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