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03. Working Conditions
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03. Working Conditions

Minimum Working Conditions

The specific obligations an employer owes to its employees will typically depend upon the jurisdiction in which it operates, be that federal, provincial or territorial. What follows is a general overview of the various workplace statutes, including employment standards, health and safety legislation, human rights, pay equity and workers’ compensation.

Minimum Working Conditions

Employment standards in each Canadian jurisdiction sets minimum legislative standards, or a “floor of rights”, with respect to matters such as minimum wages, hours of work, overtime pay, vacations and holidays, and leaves of absences. Employees and employers may not contract out of these rights except to provide for terms more favourable to employees.


Employees must be paid an amount equal to or greater than the applicable minimum wage. Minimum wages in Canadian jurisdictions range from $11.00 per hour to $14.00 per hour. Where employees are paid a salary rather than an hourly wage, the employer must nevertheless ensure that employees’ compensation is at least equal to the minimum wage in light of hours worked.

Maximum Working Week

Generally, the maximum daily and weekly figures are typically 8 hours per day and between 40 and 48 hours per week.  In certain situations, these maximum hours of work may be exceeded, such as: where overtime is paid; where employees agree; or where there is an emergency situation. Specific provisions also exist in some jurisdictions, which permit employers to implement “compressed” four-day work weeks or “continental shifts” with 12-hour work-days.


Each jurisdiction’s employment standards legislation includes provisions governing overtime pay when an employee works in excess of a certain number of hours (typically time-and-one-half). Overtime entitlements apply to both salaried and hourly employees. However, most jurisdictions specifically exclude certain employees from this entitlement, such as managerial or supervisory employees and certain types of professionals.

Employer’s Obligation to Provide a Healthy and Safe Workplace

The health and safety of workers should be a major concern for all employers in Canada. Each jurisdiction is governed by its own health and safety legislation, but generally they all have broad and sweeping powers to investigate and prosecute employers who fail to ensure a safe workplace.

Employer’s Obligation to Provide a Healthy and Safe Workplace

Occupational health and safety legislation exists in all jurisdictions and places an obligation on both employers and employees to minimise the risk of workplace accidents, through the exercise of “due diligence”. Regulations are enacted that create specific requirements for and expectations of each workplace, including industry-specific requirements governing the use of hazardous substances and dangerous equipment. These expectations are enforced through well-funded bureaucracies and the threat of quasi-criminal, or actual criminal, prosecution of the employer, management, or other workplace participants if there is a breach of the legislation or applicable regulatory provision. Legislation also provides employees with certain rights designed to promote workplace safety, including the right to be informed of hazards and the right to refuse work that they reasonably believe is dangerous. Finally, in many Canadian jurisdictions, there are laws that require that employers assess the risk of, and develop programs to deal with, violence and harassment in the workplace.

Complaint Procedures

Complaints can be made against employers by contacting the appropriate government ministry depending on the jurisdiction they are in. The complaint process is designed to be easy and accessible for employees who wish to report a health and safety issue. Once a complaint is made to the appropriate government agency, they will almost always conduct an investigation. Depending on the findings of the investigation, quasi-criminal (regulatory) charges can be laid against corporations, their directors, as well as supervisors/managers. In the case of significant worker injury or death, criminal prosecution is also possible.

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