Know Your Rights When You Work

By Andrew Lim

ServerWere you laid off, or fired from your last job? Did you quit instead? Was the split from your last job caused by conflict, miscommunication, or misunderstanding between you and an employer? Perhaps you want to start fresh and put your past behind you. Be informed of your legal employee rights. This is the best prevention, and solution to investigating a past workplace incident, or making sure you do not repeat your mistakes again. Let’s start with the basics:

My line of work is unpredictable. Should I bother to show up for work or call before my shift to ask if they need me?

Yes, show up for work and without fail.  Remember, to be selected to join a staff team is not a ‘norm’ or a ‘right’, but a privilege.  Besides, what would you say if you called in advance? You do not give a good impression when you have to ask if you need to work every time, when you are already scheduled. Most employers will find it in their best interest to call you in advance if possible, and tell you not to come in if there is no work for you.

So what do you get for the hassle of travelling to work and back? Two hours of your regular pay, even if you r shift is cancelled. If you were scheduled to work a full day (8-hour shift), the employer must pay you four hours of wages, whether or not you end up working the shift. The catch is showing up on time for your shift if they did not call you.  If however, you called in sick, or you do not show up when you’re supposed to, you do not get paid, whether or not your shift was cancelled.

If you have already begun to work and then you’re allowed to leave because the work was done, or an issue disrupts your work that is beyond anyone’s control, you must be paid. If you work longer than 2 hours and you are disrupted, or if you have already worked more than 4 hours and you get disrupted, in both cases, you are entitled to however many number of hours of work you were originally scheduled for that day.

How often does this actually happen? More often than you might think. It depends on the work. Unscheduled and last minute cancellations of shifts may occur in restaurants and cafés, especially for specific jobs such as line cooks, dishwashers, baristas, cashiers, or other kitchen staff. A variety of skilled trade workers from roofing to horticulture may be whether dependent, or disrupted by weather, safety related issues, or a combination of both. Even if you work as an office admin assistant, extreme weather such snowstorms and flooding may force operations to grind to a halt and business may be cancelled.

So if you are expected to work that day as far as you know, and then you arrive only to be sent home, it is a good idea to make an appearance. If you feel it is dangerous however to travel to work, you will likely not get paid for a cancelled shift. This is because often it is dangerous due to extreme weather conditions. In these cases, the majority of employers will make announcements, or provide you with advance warning via phone and/or email. Show courtesy, commitment and take initiative by making a simple phone call and tune into your local news on TV, online, or on the radio, in these situations.

How many breaks do I get?

None.  Employers are not obligated to provide 15-minute breaks.  If you work longer than five hours at a time, you are entitled to a half-hour, unpaid meal break.  That’s it. If an employer wishes to provide you with 15-minute breaks, they are free to do so, but it is not a requirement. Your employer is only required to give you 30 minutes to eat, and then return to work.

Be aware of split-shifts as well. It may be legal for an employer to ask that you work nine hours in a day, without paying you overtime for the extra hour, and take an one-hour meal break instead of 30 minutes. If you do not want to work extra hours in a day and not be paid overtime, you may want to turn down this position, or begin looking for something new.  Before accepting a job offer, it is a good idea to ask question about “expected hours of work per day, or per week” and the “work culture”, so you have an idea of what do expect.  If an employer approaches you with an “Averaging Agreement”, be informed before you sign anything and give consent.

The BC Employment Standards Act provides employers the basic framework to conduct their business with you as their staff member and employee. It also gives you an idea of minimum standards you need to consider for a place of work acceptable and appropriate. An employer can of course, do more to keep you around, happy, and committed to the company. It is however, illegal for any employer to provide less than what is laid out by the BC Employment Standards..

Do you have other labour law related questions? Check out the BC Employment Standards Act website:

We’ve also explained more about your rights and work on our website at:

Andrew Lim is a career development practitioner with the FraserWorks Co-op.  You can connect with Andrew on LinkedIn.

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