Trevor Thomas is an employment lawyer with Ascent Employment Law. Trevor combines fresh ideas with solid legal advice, appealing to employers and employees who are seeking innovation and change management. An engaging speaker and respected writer, Trevor is often asked to share his legal expertise at community and professional events. He is the editor of the employment law section of Clicklaw's Legal Help for British Columbians.
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Learn if you’re protected under BC’s employment standards law.
The main provincial law that protects workers in British Columbia is called the Employment Standards Act. It sets minimum standards for wages and working conditions. However, some workers are excluded from the protection of this law, or parts of it. Your rights in the workplace and your options to deal with problems depend on whether or not you’re covered. Learn if you’re protected under BC’s employment standards law.
Most workers are covered
“I work two jobs. One of my employers said I wasn’t entitled to extra pay for working on stat holidays, as I was an ‘independent contractor.’ I made a complaint to the Employment Standards Branch. They found the Employment Standards Act applies to me. They said if there’s any doubt whether an exception to the Act applies, it’s resolved in favour of the worker.”
– Melissa, Burnaby
The Employment Standards Act applies to employees. The definition of who is an employee is very broad. It’s intended to cover as many work relationships as possible.
You’re seen to be an employee under this law if any of the following apply:
- You perform work for another for wages. It doesn’t matter how many hours you work or if your job is permanent or temporary.
- An employer allows you to perform work normally done by an employee. This can be done directly or indirectly. For example, if an employee asks you to cover their shift, you’re an employee. Even if your employer doesn’t know about this arrangement.
- You’re being trained by an employer for their business. This includes a trial period for a prospective employee.
- You’re on leave from an employer. This includes maternity or parental leave, or illness or injury leave.
- You have a right of recall. This can come up if you’re temporarily laid off. It means you get to return to work.
If you meet the definition of employee, you’re covered by the Employment Standards Act unless an exception applies. There are a number of exceptions. We explain them below.
If there’s any doubt whether an exception to the Employment Standards Act applies, it is resolved in favour of the worker. The Act applies.
Exception if you work as an independent contractor
The Employment Standards Act doesn’t cover independent contractors. An independent contractor is seen to be self-employed (and so not an “employee”). In other words, they run their own business.
Figuring out whether someone is an employee or an independent contractor can be tricky. There are several factors to consider. An employee (as defined in the Act) is a person “entitled to wages for work performed for another.” An employer is a person who has “control or direction of an employee.”
The topic of direction and control is important. Does the person paying you direct the work and say how it’s done? If the answer is “Yes,” that leans towards you being seen as an employee.
Other factors include:
- Clients. Is the person paying you your only gig?
- Ongoing relationship. Have you worked for them for a long time?
- Connection to business. Is the work you do closely connected to the purpose of the business?
More “Yes” answers mean you are more likely to be seen as an employee than as an independent contractor.
We dig into these factors in more detail (with example scenarios!) in our page on figuring out if you are an independent contractor.
Calling someone an independent contractor doesn’t mean they are. Even if you sign something saying you’re an independent contractor, you may still be an employee under the law. Any agreement that tries to get around the requirements of the Employment Standards Act is not valid.
Exception if you work in a federally-regulated workplace
If you work for an employer regulated by the federal government, you are not covered by the Employment Standards Act. Instead, a federal law called the Canada Labour Code applies. Around 6% of Canadian workers fall into this category.
Which employers are federally regulated? Examples include banks, airlines, and telecoms. The Canadian government website lists federally-regulated businesses and industries.
There are many similarities in how the Employment Standards Act and the Canada Labour Code protect workers. Both, for example, have rules for minimum wage, overtime pay, and holidays. But there are also important differences, especially for workers fired without cause.
If you work in a federally-regulated workplace, Employment and Social Development Canada can help you understand your rights in the workplace.
Exception if you work in certain licensed professions
The Employment Standards Act doesn’t apply to people working in certain licensed professions. Examples include doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants, architects, engineers and realtors. The Employment Standards Branch lists the professions not covered by the Act.
This doesn’t mean these professionals have no rights at the workplace. Other provincial laws, such as human rights laws and workers compensation laws, still apply — even though the Employment Standards Act doesn’t.
If you work in a licensed profession not covered by the Employment Standards Act, the body that regulates the profession can help you understand your rights in the workplace. For example, the Architectural Institute of British Columbia regulates architects in the province.
Exception if you’re a student or a babysitter
The Employment Standards Act does not apply to students working in certain jobs:
- secondary-school students working at their school or in work-study programs
- primary- or secondary-school students working as newspaper carriers 15 hours a week or fewer
The Act doesn’t apply to babysitters. A babysitter is someone employed solely to attend to a child or other person in someone else’s private residence. It’s not someone working in a day care facility.
The Employment Standards Branch provides details of each of these categories.
Exception if you’re enrolled in certain government incentive programs
The Employment Standards Act does not apply to people who are in certain government incentive programs while receiving income assistance, disability benefits, or employment insurance. The Employment Standards Branch provides details.
If you’re a member of a union
Workers who belong to unions are covered by the collective agreements negotiated between their union and employer. Any collective agreement made or renewed after May 30, 2019 must meet or exceed the minimum standards of the Employment Standards Act in a number of areas. These include:
- hours of work and overtime
- statutory holidays
- annual vacation and vacation pay
- minimum notice provisions
If provisions of the collective agreement fall below those minimum standards, then the Act applies instead.
If you belong to a union, speak with your union representative to learn about your rights in the workplace.
If you work in an occupation that’s partially excluded from the Act
Some occupations fall partly outside the Employment Standards Act. This means some of the laws apply to these occupations but others do not. Here are some examples. The Employment Standards Branch provides a full list of occupations that are excluded from parts of the Act.
A “high-tech professional” is excluded from the sections of the Act dealing with hours of work, overtime, and statutory holiday entitlements. The Employment Standards Branch explains who this applies to.
Silviculture workers (workers involved in reforestation) who are paid “primarily on a piece-rate basis” are excluded from some provisions of the Act dealing with split shifts, hours of work, and overtime. The Employment Standards Branch provides details.
Farm workers are excluded from some sections of the Act, such as the statutory holiday entitlements. The Employment Standards Branch explains how the Act applies to farm workers.
Fin fish farm workers also have specific sections of the Act, involving work hours and overtime, that don’t apply. The branch provides details.
Workers paid on a commission or incentive basis are excluded from specific sections of the Act, including the overtime requirements. The branch provides details.
If you’re a manager
Managers are excluded from the parts of the Employment Standards Act that cover hours of work, overtime, and statutory holiday pay. They are otherwise covered (if none of the other exceptions apply).
A manager is defined as a person:
- whose main duties are supervising or directing human or other resources, or
- employed as an executive.
Key considerations in determining if someone is a manager are:
- How much can they “materially and substantially” affect the employment conditions of those for whose work they are responsible?
- What kind of responsibilities do they have with respect to company resources?
The title “manager” doesn’t legally make someone a manager. Nor does it matter if other workers refer to a person as a “manager.”
The Employment Standards Branch provides more detail on what goes into determining if someone is a manager.
If you’re not covered by employment standards legislation
Just because you’re not covered by the Employment Standards Act doesn’t mean you have no rights as a worker. Other laws apply to those who are excluded from the Act. For example, human rights laws protect all workers from discrimination.
If you feel your rights have been violated at work, seeking legal advice can help. It’s a way to better understand which laws apply to you and what your options are to resolve your dispute. There are options for free or low-cost legal advice.
Guidance on how to determine if you're an independent contractor.
Learn more about flexible work and how to request it.
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!
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.
Learn what to know and how to best protect yourself as a self-employed worker.
Learn your legal rights around taking a vacation.
Learn your rights around taking sick days.
Learn your rights if you're temporarily laid off.
Learn about EI benefits, and how to apply.