BC Labor Laws for Small Business Owners

Sep 9, 2022 11:06:07 AM | heymate BC Labor Laws for Small Business Owners

Canadian employment law can be both confusing and difficult as it varies from province to province. The Constitutional Act 1867 provides, that each Province and its Legislature may exclusively make laws about all matters generally of a merely local or private nature in the Province.


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It should be noted that the legislation itself remains the sole authority for the provisions of the law explained.



As a business owner that hires dozens of employees, one must familiarize themselves with BC’s labour law as it sets the bar for the province’s standards of employment. Employment laws are in place to make sure that both employers and employees are protected. Employment laws are also important to foster the development of a productive and efficient labour force that can contribute fully to the prosperity of BC’s economy. 

The general objective of employment legislation is to protect the interests of employees by requiring employers to comply with certain minimum standards respecting compensation and conditions of employment. Employers are also subject to various common law obligations. These obligations are based on past judicial opinions that outline the minimum requirement of employers’ duty towards employees.


Duty to keep records

The BC Employment Standards Act, R.S.B.C. 1996 and BC Employment Standards Regulation Reg. 396/95 impose extensive record-keeping duties on employers under their employment standards statutes. It requires employers to maintain records of each employee’s wages, hours of work, general holidays, annual vacations and “conditions of work” as determined by regulations for at least 36 months.


Duty to safeguard employees’ health and safety.

An employer has a huge responsibility to ensure their fellow employee is working in a safe place. The employer is obliged to provide the employees with safe tools and equipment, a safe system of work and employees who do not carelessly endanger them.

Business owners are responsible for:

  • Maintaining the store and premises in all the circumstances of the case is reasonable to see that a person, and his property, on the premises, and property on the premises of a person will be reasonably safe in using the premises.
  • Providing all safety materials, equipment, devices, and clothing to protect employees
  • Ensuring that employees have the necessary information, training and supervision to perform their jobs safely
  • Ensuring that employees have the necessary information, training, and supervision to perform their work safely
  • Ensuring that the employee has the necessary knowledge of the safe use of workplace tools and equipment
  • Having awareness of known or foreseeable workplace hazards
  • Conducting Regular inspections
  • Helping ensure that occupational health and safety hazards are addressed before they result in possible injuries
  • Fixing problems if reported by employees
  • Reporting any injuries that require medical attention to WorkBC
  • Submitting supporting documents to WorkSafeBC promptly.

 Some people may argue that the implied duty of care is no longer of much practical importance as employees are protected by workers’ compensation anyway. These compensation funds would have permitted recovery. This is not from the employers themselves, but from the compensation fund, on a no-fault basis, and virtually all employers contribute to the fund.  However, employer may also be subject to litigation and claim on a personal basis. There are also a few employment situations where the no-fault workers’ compensation scheme does not apply. 

In light of the above, one must, as an employer, observe and adhere to the occupational Health and Safety standard mandated by the BC legislature. 


Duty to Provide Rest Periods 

In almost all Canadian provinces, there is a requirement of how long an employee may be compelled to work without being granted a meal period or rest break. In the case of BC, an employer must ensure:

  • that no employee works more than 5 consecutive hours without a meal break, and
  • that each meal break lasts at least 30 minutes
  • An employer who requires an employee to work or be available for work during a meal break must count the meal break as time worked by the employee.

Unlike Ontario, BC employees engaged in the retail business are NOT permitted to refuse to work on Sundays. However, BC legislation provides a minimum rest period between shifts. In BC, if shift work is carried on, an employee cannot be required to change shifts without at least eight hours of rest between shifts.

All Canadian jurisdictions entitle qualified employees to an annual paid vacation. Two weeks is the norm. Employees in BC are also entitled to three weeks’ vacation after five years of qualifying work and service.


Duty to Provide Leaves of Absence.

The law also permits employees to take unpaid leave, depending on their circumstances. These are, not exclusive to,

  • Maternity Leave 
  • Parental Leave
  • Adoption Leave 
  • Family and Compassionate Care Leave 
  • Family/Personal/Sick Leave 
  • Declared Emergency Leave.

The worker is entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave, at least six of which must follow the employee’s confinement. Both BC and the federal government provide for 17 weeks of unpaid leave. However, the BC Employment Standard Act provides certain exceptions. These amounts may be extended up to a specified maximum if the employee’s medical condition renders her unfit to resume work.

On the other hand, BC also has enacted unpaid parental leave provisions which are no less favourable to the employee than those for maternity leave in terms of their duration. BC also have equivalent legislation on adoption leave. Nonetheless, there is a subtile difference between adoption leave and parental leave provisions in BC.

BC also enacted legislation for unpaid leaves of absence for family emergencies relating to the care, health and education of children and other members of the immediate family. The law provides for a maximum period of unpaid “compassionate” leave only in emergency situations involving defined close family members whom a doctor has certified are facing a significant risk of death within 26 weeks of the date of the certificate or the commencement of the leave. 


Duty to pay wages (Overtime and Hours of Work)

Contrary to public belief, in the absence of a specific clause in an employment contract, overtime compensation is not legally payable. In other words, unless it is specified specifically in the employment contract, the employee would not be able to obtain payment for overtime work. 

However, BC has specific legislation concerning overtime work. British Columbia departs from the rest of Canada in that the overtime premium increases to double the regular rate of pay. Unlike other provinces where it is usually 50% more than the regular pay, BC’s double pay only operates where the employee works for more than 12 hours in a day. The law only applies where the employee works over 8 hours a day unless there is an averaging agreement to shed off the working hours.

As suggested above, BC has determined 8 hours per day as the trigger for defining standard working hours. The minimum wage in BC is currently $15.65 per hour (as of June 1, 2022). Employees must be paid at least minimum wage.

BC does not give the employee a statutory right to refuse overtime. However, BC also has a ceiling gap for providing that the employer cannot require or “directly or indirectly allow” an employee to work “excessive hours” or hours “detrimental to the employee’s health or safety”.  


Termination of the Employment Relationship

A contract of employment for a fixed-term contract will terminate automatically upon the expiry of the term, and there will be no wrongful dismissal if the employer refuses to continue the employment thereafter.  If the employer or the employee purports to terminate the employment unilaterally before the term expires, or the task is completed, this constitutes a breach of the contract. The employee would have a recourse to run for the remaining salary.

There are also specific rules relating to termination by agreement or by reason of and resignation. In the case of wrongful dismal, employee can recourse over common law and under legislation. Employers should carefully note this convoluted part of law as there is also specific requirement for Notice of Termination under BC law. 




Written By: Tobias Pang