You’re unhappy with something at work. You’ve tried unsuccessfully to resolve it directly with your employer. Or you’re afraid to raise the issue with them. One option to explore is making a written complaint to the BC Employment Standards Branch. This is a provincial government office that helps workers and employers resolve problems. We explain the steps involved in making an employment standards complaint.
Most (but not all) workers in BC can make an employment standards complaint
Most workers in British Columbia are protected by the BC Employment Standards Act. This is the main law protecting workers in the province. If you’re covered, you can make an employment standards complaint. But not everyone is covered.
For example, people working for an employer regulated by the federal government are not covered by the Act. Such employers may include banks, airlines and telecommunications companies.
People working in certain licensed professions aren’t covered. Examples include doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants, architects, engineers and realtors.
Independent contractors aren’t covered by the Act. Unlike “employees,” independent contractors are hired by the employer to perform a service. They are in business for themselves.
Sometimes it’s difficult to determine whether an individual is an employee or an independent contractor. The Employment Standards Branch can give you advice to help you decide which category you fall under. (See the “Get help” section below.)
For a fuller discussion of who’s covered and who isn’t, see our page on are you covered by BC’s employment standards law?
You can complain to...
in a federally-regulated workplace, such a bank or telecommunications company
in certain licensed professions, such as doctors, accountants, architects, and realtors
the body that regulates the profession
as a member of a union
your union representative
You may have a limited time period to make a complaint
Under the Employment Standards Act, there’s a time limit to make a complaint in some circumstances.
If your employment has ended, you have up to six months after your last day of work to bring a complaint.
For certain complaints relating to hiring, you have up to six months from the time the problem took place. For example, if when you were hired an employer misrepresented the type of work or the wages, you have six months to make a complaint from when the misrepresentation was made.
While you are employed, you can make a complaint at any time.
There’s a limit on the amount of wages you can recover
Under the Act, there's a limit on the lost wages that can be recovered through an employment standards complaint. Only wages owing during the 12 months before you brought your complaint or left your job are recoverable.
Your employer can’t fire you for making a complaint
Making an employment standards complaint shouldn’t put your job in jeopardy. An employer can only fire you in one of two ways:
- For “just cause.” This is a legal term for being fired for doing something seriously wrong.
- “Without cause,” in which case they need to give you advance notice or severance pay.
An employer can’t fire you for “just cause” for bringing an employment standards complaint.
An employer shouldn’t fire you “without cause” for bringing a complaint. However, sometimes this can happen. If it does, you will be entitled to advance notice or severance pay.
Our page on if you are fired explains when an employer can fire a worker.
Your employer can’t mistreat you for making a complaint
An employer can’t mistreat you for making a complaint to the Employment Standards Branch. Under the Employment Standards Act, an employer can’t do any of these things in response to your complaint:
- fire you or threaten to fire you
- withhold your pay
- discriminate against you
- intimidate or impose a penalty on you
- refuse to hire you
- hold you back in your job or career
Step 1. Make the complaint
There’s a time limit in some circumstances to bring an employment standards complaint. For example, if your employment has ended, you have up to six months after your last day of work to make a complaint. For more on the time limits, see above, under “What you should know.”
A complaint to the Employment Standards Branch must be made in writing. You can make a complaint in either of these ways:
- Using the online complaint form, type information into the form and submit it.
- Using the printable complaint form, fill out the form on the computer or on paper, and mail or drop off the completed form at the Employment Standards Branch nearest you.
Attach any relevant documents with your complaint. These might include emails or letters that relate to the issue, your paystubs (if part of your pay was missing, for example), your written employment contract (if you have one), or the termination letter (if your complaint relates to being fired).
There’s no charge for bringing a complaint.
You can request in writing that your contact information not be disclosed to your employer. An employer cannot fire you, refuse to employ you, or otherwise mistreat you for filing a complaint.
Step 2. The Branch considers your complaint
After you submit your complaint, the Employment Standards Branch will consider it. They will contact you and the employer. The Branch may handle your complaint by:
- scheduling a mediation session,
- investigating it, or
- scheduling a complaint hearing.
Step 3. Attend a mediation session
The Employment Standards Branch may offer to resolve your complaint through mediation. Mediation is a meeting between you and your employer together with a neutral third party called a mediator. It may be a face-to-face meeting or a teleconference.
“Neutral” means the mediator is impartial. They don’t represent either party, act as an adviser, or provide legal advice. They have no decision-making authority, and can’t make a ruling on any of the issues. Their job is to help the two sides tackle the problem and reach a solution.
If mediation solves the problem, the mediator will help you prepare a document called a “settlement agreement.” Both parties will sign the agreement and each will receive a copy. Once it’s signed, it becomes a legal document that can be filed and enforced at the BC Supreme Court.
If you can’t reach an agreement, the matter will proceed to a complaint investigation or hearing.
The mediation session is conducted “without prejudice.” This means that nothing said during the session can be used in a later hearing by either party.
Step 4. Attend a complaint hearing￼
The Employment Standards Branch may schedule a complaint hearing to decide if your employer has broken the law. This is also called an adjudication hearing. Many hearings are held by conference call, but some are held in person.
You’ll receive a notice of complaint hearing, which will tell you what to do.
The hearing is conducted by an officer of the Employment Standards Branch, called an adjudicator. The adjudicator’s job is to hear the backstory of the complaint from both sides. Both you and your employer present evidence. This includes any relevant documents. You also have the right to call witnesses to give evidence.
At the end of the hearing, the adjudicator will issue a written decision, called a determination. The determination is a legal document. It can be filed and enforced in the BC Supreme Court.
Step 5. Appeal the adjudicator’s decision
If you’re not happy with the determination made at your complaint hearing, you have the right to appeal it. The appeal is brought to the Employment Standards Tribunal.
The tribunal rules set out the following grounds for appeal:
- You think the adjudicator applied the law incorrectly.
- You don’t think the adjudicator observed the principles of natural justice (for example, you think the decision-making process was unfair to you).
- More evidence has become available that wasn’t available at the time of the hearing.
The time limit for filing an appeal is:
- 21 days after the date you were served with the determination, if you were served personally, by fax, or electronically.
- 30 days after the date you were served with the determination, if you were served by registered mail.
To submit your appeal, you must:
- Fill out an appeal form in form 1. The tribunal has a guide to filling out the form.
- Deliver the appeal form to the tribunal within the appeal period. Also deliver to the tribunal a copy of the determination you are appealing, including the written reasons for the determination.
- Deliver a copy of the appeal form to the Director of Employment Standards.
If the tribunal finds that the grounds of appeal are met, it may confirm, change or cancel the determination. It may also choose to refer the matter back to the adjudicator for reconsideration. You’ll get a copy of the written reasons for the tribunal’s decision.
The Employment Standards Branch deals with complaints under the Employment Standards Act.
Call 1-800-663-3316 (toll-free)
Employment and Social Development Canada can help you bring a claim against your employer if you work in a federally-regulated industry.
Call 1-800-641-4049 (toll-free)