Your employer is responsible for directing and managing the work you do, paying your wages, and providing you a safe place to work. In exchange, you have certain responsibilities towards your employer. Many of these responsibilities apply whether or not you have a written employment contract. Learn more about your responsibilities towards your employer.
You must do the work you were hired to do
“The other day, my boss asked me to lie to a client in order to cover up a mistake we had made on his file. I have a lot of respect for this client, and I wasn’t comfortable with my boss’s request. I shared my concern with her, and we were able to come up with a more ethical solution.”
– Billy, Port Moody
As a worker, you have a duty to perform the job you were hired to do. That includes anything that was included in the job description (if there was one). It also includes anything else you agreed to in your employment contract.
You must personally perform your job. In other words, you can’t ask your co-workers to do your work for you (unless your contract says you can).
Generally, you have a duty to work carefully and to perform your job to the best of your ability. You are also required to show up on time and as the employer has scheduled. If you don’t, your employer may have the right to discipline or even fire you. This is referred to as being fired for “just cause”. See our guidance on if you are fired.
You also have a duty to follow any reasonable instructions from your employer. Instructions are unreasonable if they’re outside your qualifications, abilities or skill set. For example, it would be unreasonable if your employer asks you to operate a forklift but you’ve never been trained to use one.
As well, you don’t have to do anything dangerous or illegal — for example, charging fake expenses to a client’s account. You also have the right to refuse unsafe work. See the “Deal with the problem” section below for the steps to take if you’re asked to do something dangerous or illegal.
If your employer asks you to do something you think is dangerous or illegal, ask for clarification. Specifically, ask them to restate the request and explain their reasoning. If you’re still uneasy, you can decline.
You must be loyal to your employer
A worker owes a general duty of loyalty to their employer. This means that a worker must:
- act in the best interests of the employer
- use good judgment in the performance of their job
- protect the employer’s confidential information
The duty of loyalty is based on the idea that employers should be able to trust their workers inside and outside the office.
Workers have a duty to perform their job in good faith
Related to the duty of loyalty is a worker’s obligation to act in good faith. Anything a worker does that actively undermines their employer is considered a breach of that good faith. A worker must be honest in their dealings with their employer. For example, a worker must not lie about being sick when, in truth, they are not. Other components of the duty to act in good faith include:
- avoiding conflicts of interest (for example, competing directly with the employer)
- protecting the employer’s proprietary information, such as trade secrets or customer lists
- respecting the employer’s ownership of the work product
Some employment contracts include a clause called a “restrictive covenant”. This type of clause limits the kind of work a worker can do after they leave their employer. It’s hard for an employer to justify a restrictive covenant, and courts often strike them down. See our guidance on your employment contract.
Some workers have fiduciary duties
Workers in senior positions may have fiduciary duties. These are in addition to duties of loyalty and good faith. A fiduciary duty is a legal obligation that one party (the worker) act in the best interests of another (the employer).
Generally, only a small fraction of workers have fiduciary duties. For example, a director of a company or a top manager are in a fiduciary position because of their decision-making power.
You mustn’t put yourself or others in danger
“My employer asked me make a cross-town delivery. It was a reasonable request, except I’d just flown back from my sister’s wedding and was severely sleep-deprived. I explained why I was uncomfortable carrying out that task. Instead of being mad, my employer said he appreciated my telling him — it might have avoided an accident! — and instead assigned me warehouse work that day."
– Sunil, Vancouver
As a worker, you play an important role in making sure you and your co-workers stay safe on the job. As a worker, you must:
- be alert to hazards and report them immediately to your employer or supervisor
- follow safe work procedures and act safely in the workplace at all times
- use the protective clothing, devices and equipment provided, and wear them properly
- cooperate with worker health and safety representatives
- get help quickly in the event of a workplace injury, and tell the health care provider that the injury is work-related
- follow the treatment advice of health care providers
- return to work safely after an injury by ensuring you are fit to return to work
- if you can’t perform all duties, seek your employer’s help in modifying the work performed so it's safe to return
- refrain from working under the influence of alcohol, drugs or any other substance, or if you’re overly tired
Your employer may require you to work overtime
An employer has the right to ask a worker to work overtime, as long as the hours aren’t excessive and the worker receives the overtime wage rate.
Under the law, overtime wages are owed if a worker is asked to work more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week. Workers must have at least 32 consecutive hours free from work each week. If a worker works during this period, they must be paid time-and-a-half for all hours worked. As well, workers must be given at least eight hours of rest between shifts of work. See our guidance on working overtime.
You must give notice before you quit
To find out how much notice is required, the first place to look is your employment contract. If you have a written contract, it will likely spell out how much notice you need to provide.
If you don’t have a written employment contract, you still need to give your employer reasonable notice. What’s reasonable depends on several factors. One of the most important factors is how long it would take your employer to hire and train a suitable replacement for you.
A good rule of thumb is to give your employer at least two weeks notice. However, you may need to give more, depending on things like:
- what your employment duties are
- the nature of your workplace
- what industry you work in
If you don’t give enough notice, your employer may be able to take legal action against you (although this is rare).
To be effective, your resignation must be clear. In other words, your employer should have no doubt about your intention to quit. The notice period doesn’t start running until your employer is certain that you’re quitting.
If you don’t respect your responsibilities to your employer
If they feel you haven’t honored your responsibilities, an employer can take certain actions. They might:
- give you a written warning, or suspend you
- give you a poor performance evaluation in writing, or demote you (give you a lower job)
- fire you, if you’ve done something very serious (see our guidance on if you are fired)
- take you to court to recover money you cost them (for example, if you quit without giving enough notice)
- take you to court to stop you from doing things that are harmful to their business
Step 1. Get all the facts
Make sure you’re fully aware of what your employer is asking you to do. If you have any doubts, ask them to restate their request. If it’s still unclear, try asking more specific questions.
For example, you could say something like:
“I want to understand this a little better. Are you saying you don’t want me to document this expense for the Jones account? Why is that? Wouldn’t that be contrary to our usual practice?”
Once you have the facts, decide on your next move. Ask your employer for enough time to avoid having to make a knee-jerk decision. However, don’t put off taking action for too long. It may become more difficult to challenge your employer’s request.
Step 2. Explain your concerns
If you think your employer is open to discussion, try to reason with them. Explain the concerns you have for yourself, and for them. If you know that other workers share the same concern, consider mentioning this to your employer.
If you take issue with your employer’s request, it’s a good idea to offer an alternative solution. Brainstorm a more professional way to handle the request. Explain that you’re hopeful you can come to an agreement on another way to deal with the issue.
If what your employer is asking for strikes you as unethical, it might be. Don’t let yourself be pressured into doing something you aren’t comfortable with. On the flip side, don’t be too aggressive in explaining your concerns. You may end up making the situation worse.
Step 3. Take steps to protect yourself
Just because you’re following your employer’s instructions doesn’t mean you aren’t responsible for your actions. You may still face liability for any illegal acts you perform on the job. So it’s important to take steps to protect yourself.
Although every work situation is different, here are some actions you may consider:
- Send your employer an email restating their request. This may be enough to make them see that the request is problematic.
- Talk to someone else in a management position about the problem and seek advice.
- Speak to a manager in your human resources department.
- Decline the request, and explain your reason why.
- Decline the request, and resign. If the request is so distasteful you don’t think you could keep working for the employer, you may be better off leaving.
Can my employer access my computer to see if I’m respecting the office internet policy?
Even though you have privacy rights at work, the computers at your office belong to your employer. That means your employer has the right to monitor internet activity on the computers if they have a good reason to.
If you violate your office’s internet policy, your employer may be able to discipline or even fire you. Before using office computers for your personal business, learn your employer’s rules around internet use.
It’s common for employers to allow workers to use office computers for personal reasons as long as that use is not excessive. If you’re allowed any personal use of workplace computers, you have a reasonable expectation of privacy. In this case, a system that reviews your personal use of office computers may be a violation of your rights. See our guidance on your privacy rights as a worker.
Do I have to keep information about my job secret, even if I haven’t signed anything saying this?
In most cases, yes. Workers have a general duty to perform their job in good faith. This includes an obligation to keep your employer’s proprietary information confidential. Proprietary information includes things like special production methods and marketing plans. You are also obligated to do your part to maintain and protect the privacy of your employer’s clients and customers.
Workers have a duty to perform their job in good faith even if they didn’t sign anything promising to do so. The duty is implied into every employment contract. See the “Understand your legal rights” section above.
Can I post negative comments about my employer on social media?
If you do so, you risk being sued for defamation. Defamation is any communication about someone that is false and tends to lower their reputation.
Posting negative comments about your employer may also lead to discipline or even being fired if the comments damage the employer’s reputation, cause them financial loss, or are contrary to the employer’s policy.
Think twice before posting a comment about your employer on your Facebook account; you could face discipline or termination.