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Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson is a lawyer at Ascent Employment Law practicing in employment and human rights law. Richard’s years of experience make him a skilled advocate capable of handling even the most high-conflict cases. As a recognized authority on employment law issues, he is often called upon by the media to comment on topical workplace issues. Richard is also the General Editor for the publication Workers’ Compensation in British Columbia, and has authored legal columns for several other publications.

Information this contributor has reviewed

Options for Alternative Work Arrangements

Common alternative work arrangements, and what to watch for to protect your legal rights.

After a short stint in a garden-variety office job, I knew it wasn’t for me. I wanted to be my own boss. So I decided to go it alone as a freelancer. Getting my business set up was a bit of a slog, but now I work for myself. I can choose projects I’m interested in, and there’s no one breathing down my neck every moment of the day.”

– Brendon, Vancouver

There are many scenarios for working and earning money in British Columbia. From on-call work to job sharing, you’ve got plenty of options outside the regular nine-to-five. Here are eight common alternative work arrangements, with tips on what to watch for to protect your legal rights.

1. Contract work

Contract work is where an employer hires you for a fixed period of time to do a specific job. There are several flavours of contract work, two of the most common being temporary work and freelancing (explained below). 

In contract work, you clock in for one employer for a set length of time. Often, a contract encompasses a particular project or outcome (for example, to put on an event or design a website). When that’s finished, the contract ends. 

The terms and conditions of the job are spelled out in the contract. Some things that should be included are:

  • a summary of the services to be provided
  • the terms of payment
  • any reporting requirements
  • whether the contract can be renewed
  • a description of how and when the employment relationship will end, including if the contract can be ended before the expiry of the fixed period of time

Often, the employment contract is accompanied by a statement of work.

Here’s a key point: not all contract workers are covered by the main legislation in BC that protects workers. This law only applies to “employees,” and it doesn’t cover “independent contractors.” Generally, independent contractors are workers who are in business for themselves. Note, though, that just because your employer calls you an independent contractor — or you sign something saying so — doesn’t mean you are one. We offer guidance on determining if you’re an independent contractor.

Typically, contract workers aren’t entitled to the same benefits as permanent employees. For example, as a contract worker you may not be eligible for coverage under your employer’s dental plan. You’re also fully responsible for setting aside money to pay your income taxes and CPP contributions.

2. Temporary work

Temporary work is a type of contract work where an employment agency places you with an employer in a non-permanent job. This saves you the effort of scouring the job market on your own. And it spares employers the hassle of screening and interviewing applicants. 

In a “temp” work situation, you’re technically working for the employment agency. The agency pays you, and your employer in turn pays them your wages plus a service fee. 

Often, these types of jobs don’t require much training. For example, you might fill in for a receptionist on sick leave. That’s one of the benefits of temp work: you rack up experience without making a significant long-term commitment. However, some temp jobs are contract-to-hire positions, meaning the employer will bring you on full-time at the end of your contract if they’re happy with your performance.

Temp work is a great way to expand your network and meet like-minded people in your field. Even if you’re only in a job for a few days, try to make some meaningful connections while you’re there. Sooner or later, opportunity comes knocking!

3. Freelancing

Freelancing is another arrangement that falls under contract work. A freelancer is someone who is self-employed and has the freedom to decide who they offer their services to. That means they’re responsible for things that “employees” aren’t, such as:

  • setting their own hours
  • keeping track of time spent on different projects
  • billing clients
  • paying income tax

As a freelancer, you may have contracts to contribute to an organization on a regular basis. For example, you might write a monthly blog post for a media company’s website. Usually, you’re paid per project. 

If you decide to start your own freelance business, be aware of any registration requirements. Generally, these depend on the structure of your business (for example, operating a sole proprietorship has different requirements than if you incorporate). The provincial government’s website has more information on starting a business in BC.

You may also need to register for and start charging Goods and Services Tax. The federal government provides guidance on who needs to register for GST

4. Part-time work

In BC, there’s no standard legal definition for part-time work. Any job where you work fewer than 30 hours per week is usually considered part-time work.

Generally, part-time workers who are covered by BC’s main employment standards law (see who’s covered) have the same rights as full-time workers. That includes rights around vacation time, minimum wage, and working overtime

As a part-time worker, you may also be eligible for benefits that your employer offers (for example, short-term disability benefits). However, it’s uncommon for part-time workers to have the same access to benefits as full-time workers. The guidelines around employment benefits in your workplace should be spelled out in your employment contract. 

One upside to part-time work is its flexibility. But this can also be a drawback. Some part-time jobs have unpredictable hours, with schedule changes from week to week (like on-call work, explained below). Other jobs are similar to full-time positions, with consistent weekly hours and a set work schedule. For example, an employer may decide to hire two part-time workers to share the duties of a single full-time position (called job sharing, explained next). 

5. Job sharing

Job sharing is where one full-time job is split into two (or more) part-time positions. In other words, two (or more) workers in part-time roles work as job partners, sharing the duties of a single job. 

There are different ways to divvy up the duties between partners. In some cases, the workers divide the work by each taking responsibility for certain tasks. Or, the workers might share the same workload but divide up the days. The framework that works best depends on the nature of the job and the preferences and skills of each partner.

If you have a say in choosing your partner, make sure it’s someone you can cooperate with. Communication and collaboration between the two of you is essential. You may need to have some difficult conversations (around prioritizing work, for example), so it helps to be on good terms. 

It may take some time to find the right balance in a job sharing arrangement. Consider experimenting. Try different approaches to dividing the work and communicating with your partners. Tweak things as you go to boost your efficiency. And make sure to keep your employer up to speed.

6. On-call work

On-call work (also called casual work) is when you show up only when needed, often on short notice. Generally, you’re on-call for a specific window of time, during which your employer can “call you in” if they need you. This type of arrangement is common in industries where the day-to-day need for workers is unpredictable (restaurants, for example). 

An on-call job could be a temporary contract position (see above). Or it could be a part-time gig. Another common arrangement is where a full-time worker is given some on-call shifts, in addition to their regular scheduled hours. The distinction is important, because some contract workers don’t have the same rights as “employees” under the law. To learn more, see our guidance on determining if you’re an independent contractor.

Under the law in BC, the definition of “work” includes time a worker spends on-call at a location other than the worker’s home. So if your employer asks you to be at a specific location while you’re on-call (say, your workplace), they must pay you for that time. Under BC law, they must pay you for at least two hours’ worth of work, even if you work less than two hours or don’t get called in at all.

To some, the flexible and non-routine nature of on-call work is appealing. For others, especially workers who have many commitments outside of work, it’s a disadvantage. Another downside: it’s hard to plan, as income can vary from week to week. Still, an on-call job can be a good way to get your foot in the door, and may eventually lead to a regular full-time position.

7. Seasonal work

With seasonal work, an employer hires workers on a short-term basis to meet heavy demand during a particular time of year. Seasonal work is common (for example) in the agricultural industry, where more workers are needed during the warmer months. 

Generally, seasonal workers who are covered by BC’s employment standards law (see who’s covered) have the same rights as regular workers. The one exception is around how much notice or pay an employer needs to give. Under the law in BC, an employer doesn’t have to provide notice or pay to seasonal workers who:

  • are employed for a definite term (with a known start and end date),
  • are hired for specific work to be completed within a 12-month period, or
  • are covered by a collective agreement that specifies how and when the employment will end.

If none of these circumstances apply, the employer must provide a seasonal worker with the required notice or pay. We explain the rules in our guidance on how much notice your employer needs to give you.

Employers aren’t generally required to rehire seasonal workers in subsequent seasons. However, if you were never formally “let go” after last season, you may be able to argue you had a reasonable expectation to continue on this season. If your employer refuses to rehire you, you might claim you were fired without cause and are entitled to severance pay.

One benefit of seasonal work is that it frees up time the rest of the year for other pursuits. Another is that it’s typically quite predictable. However, if the job is dependent on the weather or other external factors, that may not be the case. 

In Canada, many seasonal jobs are filled by workers from overseas. These temporary foreign workers have legal rights when they arrive in BC. We explain them in our guidance on working in BC temporarily

8. Flexible work

Flexible working is when you modify an aspect of your current work arrangement to help you meet responsibilities outside of your job. It’s a catch-all term that includes a variety of arrangements, including the ones discussed above. What flexible working might look like for you depends on your unique situation. 

For more on this topic, see our guidance on requesting flexible work.

You Have Options for Dealing with a Problem at Work

Understand your options for dealing with a problem at work.

“After two years in the same job, I was still at the starting wage. Most of my co-workers were making 20% more than me. My boss seemed happy with my work, so I gathered my courage and asked to meet to discuss a raise. She agreed, and increased my wage by 20%. Now I can afford to take a proper vacation.”

– Jade, Vancouver

If you have a problem at work, there are steps you can take. Your best course of action will depend on several factors. These include the nature of the problem, 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 order. You can start with any of them.

Option 1. Talking with your employer

Many issues at work can be sorted out with an honest, respectful conversation. Talking with your employer can be quicker and less daunting than taking more formal steps. If done properly, it’s also less likely to damage your working relationships. Still, the thought of approaching your boss can be stressful. We offer tips to help you talk with your employer

Option 2. Writing to your employer

If a face-to-face discussion doesn’t work (or is just too stressful to even consider), put your thoughts in writing. We offer tips to help you write a letter to your employer.

Option 3. Making a complaint

If informal steps don’t work (or don’t fit the situation), you can make a formal complaint. Where you direct that complaint depends on what type of worker you are and what type of problem is involved. 

Employment standards complaint

Most workers in BC are protected by the provincial Employment Standards Act. If you’re covered (learn if you are) and your employer didn’t follow the Act, you can make an employment standards complaint. This is a written summary of how your employer didn't follow the Act, and a summary of events from your perspective. You file it with the Employment Standards Branch, the government office that administers the Act. The branch helps workers and employers resolve problems. We explain the steps involved in our page on making an employment standards complaint

If you work for a federally-regulated employer, you may be covered by the Canada Labour Code. Visit the federal government’s website for guidance on how to start a complaint.

There are strict time limits for making an employment standards complaint, so don’t wait too long!

Human rights complaint

If your company or another worker violates your human rights in the workplace, you can make a human rights complaint. For most workers in BC, this complaint is made to the BC Human Rights Tribunal, which deals with complaints under the BC human rights law. The tribunal operates like a court but is less formal. It has staff who help people resolve complaints without going to a hearing. If that’s not possible, they hold a hearing to decide if there was a human rights violation. Our page on if you’re discriminated against at work explains the steps in bringing a human rights complaint.

If you work for a federally-regulated employer, you may be able to file your complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Visit the commission's website to learn more.

There is a strict 12-month deadline for making a human rights complaint, so don’t wait too long.

Union grievance

Workers who belong to a union are covered by a collective agreement, which is a contract made between their union (on behalf of the unionized workers) and their employer. The collective agreement will typically spell out a process for a worker to make a complaint about the employer. This is called filing a grievance. Speak to your union representative if you are a member of a union. But act quickly, because there’s usually a short deadline to file. 

Workplace safety complaint

If your complaint has to do with workplace safety, a workplace injury, or the way your company treated you because of a workplace safety issue or an injury, you may have a claim to bring through WorkSafeBC. 

Visit the WorkSafeBC website for guidance on how to file a claim.

Option 4. Bringing a legal action

If your employer has breached your common law or contractual rights, you may decide to bring a legal action against your employer in court. 

If your claim is for less than $5,000, you can bring it to the Civil Resolution Tribunal. This is an online tribunal that encourages a collaborative approach to resolving disputes.

If your claim is for more than $5,000 but less than $35,000, you can sue in Small Claims Court. It’s faster and less complicated than suing in the BC Supreme Court, which deals with claims over $35,000. 

If you decide to sue, note there are time limitations. You must file a lawsuit within two years of when the claim arises. For example, if you are suing because of a dismissal, you have to file your lawsuit within two years of being fired.

If you’re considering a lawsuit, it’s a good idea to get legal advice. A lawyer can explain your options, and help you decide on the best course of action.