Many issues at work are best sorted out with an honest conversation. Whether it’s bringing up concerns about something or making a request, talking with your employer is quicker and less daunting than taking more formal steps. Still, the thought of approaching your boss can be stressful. We offer tips to help you talk with your employer.
You don’t have to talk with your employer before taking more formal steps
Sometimes informal steps don’t fit the situation. You might prefer writing a letter or making a formal complaint, rather than talking with your employer. That’s up to you. You can start with whatever step best fits your situation.
You don’t have to approach your employer alone
It can be helpful to first talk the issue out with friends, colleagues or your union representative (if you’re in a union). They might be able to tell you how a similar issue was handled. You may want their support if you later decide to take a more formal step, such as writing a letter or making a complaint.
You could also call in backup for the actual meeting with your employer. You might ask a co-worker or (if you’re in a union) your union representative to join you. Their presence can provide moral support. And they can be the note-taker, freeing you up to be fully in the conversation. If you decide to bring someone along, make sure you get your employer’s permission in advance.
If you contact others for help, keep a written record of whom you spoke with, what was said, and what if any action was taken.
Your employer shouldn’t fire you for raising an issue or making a request
Raising a concern or making a request of your employer 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 raising a workplace issue, making a request, or bringing a complaint.
An employer shouldn’t fire you “without cause” for raising a workplace issue, making a request, or 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.
Step 1. Set up a time to meet
Avoid going to your employer when you’re still emotionally raw. Give yourself a cooling-off period to collect your thoughts and composure. Ask your employer for a time you can meet in private.
Step 2. Prepare what you want to say
Before you meet with your employer, prepare what you want to say.
Write down what you’re unhappy about and what you want to achieve. If there was a specific incident, make note of the date and place it happened and how it made you feel. Describe any conversations you’ve had about it with anyone since then (don’t mention conversations with your lawyer or doctor).
List the three main points you want to make. This can highlight what’s most important to you, and help you remember what you want to say.
Think hard about the outcome you want. How do you hope your employer responds? One way to think about this is to put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself: What would I do if I were them? If you can make concrete suggestions, you’ll give your employer something to work with. You’re more likely to get at least part of the solution you’re after.
Gather together anything that supports your position — any 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).
In private, rehearse what you want to say to your employer.
Step 3. Have a conversation with your employer
Here’s a template you might follow for the conversation:
- Explain what the problem is. For example, I’m concerned about the new work schedule.
- Explain briefly the impact on you. For example, With so many early morning shifts, it’s challenging for me to get my kids to school.
- Stick to the facts. For example, The school’s before-and after-school program is full and has a year-long waitlist.
- Suggest one or more solutions. For example, Perhaps I could have the occasional morning shift, and more afternoon shifts.
- Ask for a response by a certain date. For example, Can you please let me know how you will be addressing this issue by [date].
Step 4. Make notes of the conversation
After the conversation with your employer, make notes of what you both said and the date and time you spoke. Be sure to make a note of the outcome. Did your employer say they’d get back to you by a certain date with a decision, for example?
Step 5. Consider following up by email
After the conversation with your employer, it may be useful to provide the employer with a summary of the conversation by email. List the main points covered and the requested response deadline. If the issue doesn’t get resolved, this brief record of the discussion may be helpful down the road.
The Employment Standards Branch is the government office that enforces the provincial Employment Standards Act. The Branch deals with complaints against employers.
Call 1-800-663-3316 (toll-free)
Employment and Social Development Canada can help with a problem with your employer if you work in a federally-regulated industry.
Call 1-800-641-4049 (toll-free)