Options to deal 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.

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.

Getting legal advice

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.

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in March 2020
  • Time to read: 4 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Erin Brandt, PortaLaw; Richard Johnson, Ascent Employment Law; and Jonas McKay, HHBG Lawyers

Erin Brandt
Richard Johnson
Jonas McKay

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