It’s reasonable to expect that your employer will pay you what they owe you. This expectation is the basis of the employment relationship. But what if, for some reason, your employer withholds some of your wages? Or what if you aren’t paid at all? It’s important to understand your legal rights in case you ever find yourself in this uncomfortable spot.
The main legislation in BC that protects workers may not apply to you
Some types of workers aren’t covered by the main legislation protecting workers in BC. The legislation doesn’t apply to people who are:
- in licensed professions, such as doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants, architects, engineers and realtors
- in industries regulated by the federal government (for example, banks and airlines)
- in certain government incentive programs while receiving income assistance, disability benefits, or Employment Insurance
- secondary-school students working at their school or in work-study programs
- primary- or secondary-school students working 15 or fewer hours a week as newspaper carriers
Your employer must pay you at least twice per month
“My employer was often late sending me my work cheque. Payday would come and go and it would be weeks before I received anything. Eventually, I raised the issue with my boss. She put me in touch with the payroll department, and now I’m having my wages direct-deposited to my bank account each payday.”
– Lewis, Burnaby
Under the law in BC, your employer must pay you at least semi-monthly (twice per month). All you earn in a pay period (including overtime and statutory holiday pay) must be paid within eight days of the end of the pay period. But this doesn’t include annual vacation pay or overtime wages credited to your time bank.
Your employer must pay your wages in Canadian currency. Wages can be paid:
- in cash,
- by cheque, bank draft or money order, or
- by direct deposit to your bank account.
Payment by direct deposit must be authorized by you in writing or by a collective agreement if you’re part of a union. If you’re a farm worker, your employer must pay your wages directly to you bank account.
If you don’t think your employer has paid you all of what they owe you, let them know right away. The longer you wait, the more difficult it may be to collect your wages.
Your employer may deduct money from your wages
Under the law in BC, there’s a general rule that your employer can't make deductions from your wages. However, certain deductions are allowed. Some examples include:
- income tax
- Employment Insurance premiums
- Canada Pension Plan contributions
- union dues
- amounts required as a result of a garnishing order
If you want to see what your employer is deducting from your wages, have a look at your wage statement. It’ll tell you the amount and reason for each deduction (see the next section.)
Your employer can't deduct from your wages to pay business costs
Your employer isn’t allowed to deduct money from your wages to cover shortfalls elsewhere in the business. This includes expenses arising from:
- damage to the employer’s property
- failure by a customer to pay (for example, “dine-and-dash”)
If your employer has deducted money from your wages to pay business costs, you can recover that money as unpaid wages. See the “Deal with the problem” section below.
Your employer can't deduct overpayments without written consent
If your employer overpays you, they can't deduct that overpayment from future wages without your written consent. The same applies if your employer gives you an advance on your wages.They can’t deduct that advance from your future wages without your written consent.
You can request that your employer deduct some of your wages
You can request that a certain amount of each paycheck go to a third party. This is called an assignment of wages. For example, you may ask your employer to assign part of your wages to an insurance company for medical coverage or to an RRSP for retirement savings. Assignments of wages must be in writing.
Your employer must give you a wage statement each payday
Under the law in BC, your employer must give you a written wage statement on your payday. The wage statement covers a single pay period, and must include:
- your employer’s name and address
- the hours you worked
- your regular wage rate
- your overtime rate
- the overtime hours you worked
- any money, payment or allowance you’re entitled to (for example, statutory holiday pay)
- the amount and reason for each deduction
- how your wages were calculated (if you aren’t paid hourly or by salary)
- your gross and net wages
- any amounts withdrawn from your time bank, and how much time remains
The document must be separate from your pay cheque, so you can keep it if you want to. Your employer doesn’t need to give you a wage statement if nothing has changed since the last pay period.
Wage statements can be provided electronically, so long as your employer provides:
- confidential access to the electronic statement at your workplace, and
- a means of making a paper copy.
If you leave your job
If you’ve been fired or laid off from your job, the law in BC says your employer must pay all the wages they owe you within 48 hours of your termination. You may also be entitled to notice or severance pay. See our guidance on how much notice or severance your employer needs to give you.
If you quit your job or retire, your employer must pay all the wages they owe you within six calendar days.
If your employer can’t locate you
If your employer can’t locate you to pay your wages within 60 days, the law says they must pay your wages to the Director of Employment Standards.
The director will hold this money “in trust” for you for one year. If the director can’t locate you within that time, your wages are deemed to be “unclaimed property.” That doesn’t mean you can no longer collect.
Step 1. Discuss the situation with your employer
If you haven’t been paid the wages you’re owed, first bring up the issue with your employer. Share with them any relevant documentation you have (for example, an unpaid invoice). Consider asking to see your most recent wage statement.
Step 2. Download a self-help kit
If you aren’t able to solve the problem directly with your employer, download the self-help kit from the BC Employment Standards Branch. The kit contains a step-by-step guide on how to bring a claim against your employer. It includes a Request for Payment form together with a letter that you submit to your employer.
Most employees are required to use the kit before they can file a formal complaint against their employer. But there are some exceptions. These are set out on the first page of the kit. See if any of the exceptions apply to you.
For more information about the self-help kit, see this factsheet. This guide also has some information on how to resolve a dispute with your employer. Consider sending these documents to your employer, together with your Request for Payment.
Your employer has 15 days to respond to your Request for Payment. If you receive no response, you can file a complaint with the Employment Standards Branch.
Step 3. File a complaint
If you can’t solve the problem using the self-help kit, you can file a complaint with the Employment Standards Branch. Note that, except under limited circumstances, you must complete the self-help kit before filing a complaint.
The following time limits apply. You must file your complaint:
- within six months of the problem taking place (if you still work for the same employer), or
- within six months of the day your employment ended (if your employer fired you)
If you are within 30 days of the end of the six month time limit, you should file your complaint first and then use the self-help kit.
You can file a complaint in any of the following ways:
- Submit an online complaint form.
- Print a copy of the complaint form, fill it out, and mail or drop it off at the Employment Standards Branch nearest you.
- Fill out a hard copy of the complaint form at the Employment Standards Branch nearest you.
- Request a copy of the form by calling the Employment Standards Information Line at 1-800-663-3316.
There’s no charge for filing a complaint.
Submit any relevant documents (for example, any unpaid invoices) with your complaint.
An employer can’t fire you, refuse to employ you, or otherwise mistreat you for filing a complaint. You can request in writing that your identity be kept confidential.
For most issues, the Employment Standards Branch only covers wages for a period of six months. So, if you worked overtime hours from January 1, 2018 to January 1, 2019 you have until July 1, 2019 to file a complaint. However, you'll only be able to claim unpaid overtime wages from July 1, 2018 to January 1, 2019 (a six-month period.)
The unpaid overtime wages from January 1, 2018 to June 30, 2018 cannot be claimed at the Employment Standards Branch. But if your contract includes overtime payment rules you may be able to seek a remedy in Small Claims Court instead.
Step 4. Attend a mediation session
On receiving your complaint, the Employment Standards Branch will open a file. They’ll offer to resolve your claim 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 it may be held by 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 simply to help the two sides tackle the problem and agree to a solution instead of fighting it out in court.
The mediation session is conducted “without prejudice.” This means that nothing said during the session can be used in a later hearing.
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 which can be filed and enforced at the BC Supreme Court.
If you can’t reach an agreement, the issue will proceed to a hearing before an adjudicator.
Step 5. Attend a hearing before an adjudicator
The purpose of an adjudication hearing is for the Employment Standards Branch to decide if your employer has broken the law. Most hearings are conducted 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 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 (for example, any unpaid invoices). You also have the right to call witnesses to give evidence and to ask questions of your employer's witnesses.The adjudicator and your employer or their representative will also have the opportunity to ask you and your witnesses questions.
Before the hearing, you should:
- review the Request for Payment form from the self-help kit, if used
- review the Agreed Statement of Facts from the mediation, if there is one
- list any points you want to make at the hearing
- make a list of questions you want to ask any witnesses
- make sure any witnesses you want to call are available to participate at the hearing
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 6. Appeal the adjudicator’s decision
You have the right to appeal the determination of your hearing 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 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:
- 30 days after the date you were served with the determination, if you were served by registered mail
- 21 days after the date you were served with the determination, if you were served personally, by fax, or electronically
To submit your appeal, you must:
- fill out an Appeal Form
- deliver the Appeal Form to the tribunal within the appeal period
- deliver a copy of the determination, and the reasons for the determination, to the tribunal within the appeal period
- confirm that a copy of the Appeal Form has been delivered to the adjudicator
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.
My employer didn’t pay me for a stat holiday. Is this legal?
Maybe. Some employees aren’t eligible for statutory holiday pay. To be eligible, you must have:
- been employed for 30 calendar days before the statutory holiday, and
- have worked or earned wages on at least 15 of the 30 days immediately before the statutory holiday.
For more information, see our guidance on working on a statutory holiday.
Am I entitled to paid sick leave?
There’s no law that says your employer must pay you for sick leave. But if your employer does give you paid sick leave, it can’t be deducted at a later date from any other entitlement. That includes paid vacation, holiday pay, or other wages.
Although employers are not required to provide paid sick leave under the provincial legislation, it may be promised to you in your contract. In this case, they are contractually required to pay for it.
The Employment Standards Branch deals with complaints if your employer hasn’t paid you the wages you’re owed.
Employment and Social Development Canada can help you bring a claim against your employer if you work in a federally regulated industry.
The BC Unclaimed Property Society can help you locate any unclaimed funds that someone is holding under your name.