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Can my employer avoid paying me my wages due to the coronavirus pandemic?
On my last pay cheque, I noticed I wasn’t paid for all the hours I’d worked. I brought it up with my employer. They agreed I’d been shortchanged, but told me that due to the coronavirus outbreak they didn’t have the money to pay me. They asked for my understanding. What are my rights here?

Can my employer avoid paying me my wages due to the coronavirus pandemic?

While your employer may be going through tough times, that doesn’t give them a carte blanche to disregard your basic rights as a worker. One of those rights is to be paid the wages you’re owed. 

Workers covered by BC’s employment standards law (see if you’re covered) are entitled to be paid everything they earn in a pay period within eight days of the end of the pay period. If you aren’t covered by this law, your employment contract will usually spell out how and when you’ll be paid, and on what terms. If you don’t have a written employment contract, check your paystubs, or simply ask your boss or other co-workers how frequently you are paid.

Before you take action, think about your expectations. These are unprecedented times. The steps you’d normally take in this situation may not be appropriate. For example, if your employer doesn’t have the money to pay your full wages, it’s likely your co-workers have been shortchanged too. Imagine if every worker demanded payment in full at the same time. That could tip the workplace over the brink. That’s a bad outcome for everyone. 

Try talking with your employer. (These tips might help you prepare.) Explain your concerns, and how not being paid in full is affecting you. You might ask them if they’re aware of the federal government’s emergency wage subsidy program. If talking doesn’t resolve things, try putting your thoughts in writing. (There are tips for this also.)  

If neither of these steps do the trick, you can take more formal action. If you’re covered by the BC Employment Standards Act, you can file a complaint with the Employment Standards Branch. If your claim is successful, you could recover the full wages owed to you.

Jim Wu
Forte Law
Reviewed May 2020

We explain the steps to make an employment standards complaint.

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