Often, issues at work can be sorted out through having an honest conversation. But sometimes more formal action is needed. Whether it’s bringing forward a concern or making a request (for example, asking for a raise or more flexible work arrangements), writing a clear and respectful letter can be an effective way to express yourself. We offer tips to help you write a letter to your employer.
You have options to bring an issue forward
If you have an issue at work, you have options as to how to bring it forward. In addition to writing a letter, these include having a conversation, making a formal complaint, or bringing legal action. The option you choose will depend on the nature of the issue, the kind of job you have, and how successful you think a particular step might be. You don’t have to go through these options in any particular order. You can start with whatever step best fits your situation.
Be clear on your rights
Before you write a letter, take steps to find out what legal rights you have and what you can reasonably expect your employer to agree to. See our guidance on your rights at work, getting paid, time off work, and getting fired or laid off.
Be sure to check what you’ll need to do. For example, if you want to request a parental leave, you need to make the request in writing at least four weeks before you expect to go on leave.
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. Find out the process
Whether you’re raising concerns about a problem at work or making a request of your employer, find out if your workplace has a process to follow. Some workplaces, particularly larger ones, have a form you’re asked to complete or a specific person or department to contact. It’s best to use the official form if one exists. Otherwise, you can write a letter or an email.
Step 2. Pull your thoughts and paperwork together
Before you write your letter, pull your thoughts together, as well as any paperwork supporting your position.
Make notes of your concerns and what you want to achieve. If there was a specific incident, write down the date and place it happened, how it made you feel, and who witnessed it. Describe any conversations you’ve had about it with anyone since then (don’t mention conversations with your lawyer or doctor).
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).
Step 3. Write your letter
We offer a template letter to deal with a problem at work. Here’s a walkthrough of what you might put in your letter:
- Explain what the issue is. Include as much relevant detail as you can think of, including the dates of any incidents and who was involved. If your complaint is that you haven’t been paid, or paid enough, say how much you think your employer owes you.
- Explain briefly the impact on you. Describe how the issue has made you feel. Avoid attacking your employer or other staff.
- Describe the steps you’ve taken so far. If you tried to resolve the situation informally first, mention that and say what the outcome was.
- Suggest a solution. Say as clearly as you can what steps you would like your employer to take to make things work for you. You may not get everything you want, and with that in mind you might suggest an alternative solution you could live with if your preferred solution isn’t accepted.
- 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]”. Generally, one week is a reasonable timeline.
Make sure your letter is dated and signed. Include copies of any supporting evidence with your letter. Keep a copy for yourself.
The Employment Standards Branch is the BC 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 problems in the workplace if you work in a federally-regulated industry.
Call 1-800-641-4049 (toll-free)