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British Columbia Employment Standards Act: An Overview
Every company with its own employees must be aware of the legislation that governs the minimum requirements of employment in the province. That legislation is the British Columbia Employment Standards Act (the “Act”). The Act and its Regulation set the rules on compensation, hours of work, time off, notice, severance pay, and other topics in most workplaces in British Columbia.
Section 2 of the Act sets out the purposes of the Act as follows:
As noted, the Act and Regulation set the minimum requirements for employment in the province. Employers are free to offer greater benefits and rights to their employees, but they are prohibited from waiving the minimum requirements. This helps ensure that employees are not coerced by employers into agreeing to inferior employment standards.
Employers should be aware of a little-known requirement under section 6 of the Act. That section requires employers to make available or provide to each employee information about the rights of the employees under the Act in a form provided or approved by the Director of Employment Standards. Employers can meet this requirement by posting the approved informational document in the workplace, and providing it directly to employees when they are hired.
The minimum standards are not negotiable, so it is important to be wary of voluntary agreements between employees and employers that do not meet those minimum standards. It is never sufficient to say, “But we had an agreement!” Such agreements are unenforceable and can result in significant liabilities in some areas – for example, overtime that is not recorded or not properly banked, or “use it or lose it” vacation policies. Not only will non-compliant agreements give rise to retroactive liabilities, but employers may also face fines for breaching the minimums standards.
Certain occupations are not covered under the Act. For example, independent contractors and professionals that are regulated by other provincial regulations (e.g., lawyers, doctors, accountants, architects, engineers, and veterinarians) are exempt from the Act. In addition, certain classes of employees (e.g., truck drivers, taxi drivers, and farm workers) and employees covered by a collective agreement are exempt from specific sections of the Act. It is important that employers familiarize themselves with special rules that apply to these types of employees.
Also, note that managers are excluded from the hours of work and overtime provisions of the Act. The term “manager” is defined under the Act as (a) a person whose principal employment duties consist of supervising and/or directing human or other resources, or (b) a person employed in an executive capacity.
Employers should keep track of any amendments to the Act and Regulation. A good resource is the Government of British Columbia’s online page Employment Standards Act and Regulation amendments which lists any updates to the Act and Regulation from May 19, 2021 onwards. Examples of previous, and forthcoming updates are as follows:
The following industry-specific wage increases in British Columbia will also take effect on June 1, 2023:
Employers and employees can find more information about the minimum statutory requirements in the Guide to the Act and Regulation, which provides very helpful interpretive guidance and practical examples concerning the application of the Act and Regulation.
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