Primer: Know Your Rights and Obligations Under the BC Employment Standards Act

The BC Employment Standards Act, RSBC 1996 C 113 (the “Act”) is an important law which describes the rights and obligations of most employees and employers in British Columbia, yet many employers and employees do not know what the Act says or whether it applies to them. Below are some answers to common questions about the Act.

What types of employment does the Act cover?

Certain professions, such as law, architecture, and medicine, along with any employment in federally regulated fields such as banks, the federal government, and airlines, are exempt from the Act. Unionized employees may be partially exempt from the Act as well.

Does the minimum wage apply to everyone covered by the Act?

The minimum wage of $10.85/hour applies to most employees covered by the Act, but there are exceptions. In particular, those working as waiters, farm workers, resident caretakers, live-in home and support workers all have their own minimum wage.

How does an employee have to be paid?

An employee has to be paid at least twice monthly and in Canadian currency. If an employee is fired, their employer must pay all their wages owing within 48 hours of them being fired. If an employee quits, an employer has to pay all the employee’s wages owing in 6 days.

When does an employer have to pay for its employees’ work clothes?

The Act provides that “special clothing” must be provided and paid for by an employer. However, “special clothing” does not mean the same thing as a dress code. As a general rule, if an employer sets a dress code, but gives its employees freedom on how to meet that dress code (for example, by selecting any brand of clothing to meet a requirement that its employees wear white t-shirts to work), then it is unlikely to be categorized as “special clothing” under the Act, and the employer is not responsible for supplying or paying for it. If, on the other hand, the employer specifies that they must purchase a certain type of clothing from a particular store, then it is more likely that it is “special clothing” under the Act and an employer must pay for it.
What are the rules around canceling an employee’s scheduled shift?

If an employer cancels an employee’s shift, it must pay that employee a minimum of two hours’ work, regardless of whether they work or not, unless the reasons for the cancellation are beyond the employer’s control. If that employee was scheduled for eight hours work and their shift is canceled, they must pay their employee a minimum of four hours of work at a regular rate,

How often are employees entitled to take breaks?

Whenever an employee works for more than five consecutive hours, they are entitled to a meal break that lasts at least 30 minutes. If they work through that meal break, it is counted as time worked during their shift. Employees are not entitled to coffee breaks under the Act.

When are employees entitled to overtime?

A standard work day is eight hours, and a standard work week is 40 hours. If an employee works more than eight hours in a day, they are required to be paid 1.5 times their regular wage for that portion of their shift which is over eight hours, and if they work more than 12 hours in a day, they are required to be paid twice their regular wage for that portion of their shift over 12 hours. Similarly, If an employee works more than 40 hours per week, they are entitled to be paid 1.5 times their regular wage for those hours over 40 per week. If an employee has to work on a statutory holiday, they are given 1.5 times their regular wage for any hours worked up to 12 hours in that day, and double their regular wage for any time worked in excess of those 12 hours.

These are some of the common questions raised by this important law.