HR Legislation overview

Important: The information provided herein does not constitute legal advice. If you require legal advice, please consult a lawyer.

Every employer in Canada, including nonprofit organizations, is required to comply with employment laws. Complying with these laws is important for a number of reasons:

  • It’s the bare minimum that you can do as an employer to demonstrate that you value your employees.
  • Nonprofit organizations have a greater challenge attracting and retaining talent since they are competing with the higher salaries and benefits often provided by for-profit employers. Your reputation as an employer will be negatively affected if you are not complying with your legal obligations.
  • Many funders will require you to demonstrate that you are in compliance with the laws, or at least require you to confirm in your funding agreement that you are in compliance with the laws. This includes employment laws.
  • Donors pay attention to your reputation. Non-compliance with employment laws may have an overall negative impact on your reputation - your organization may appear unprofessional and donors may question whether you are out of compliance with other legal obligations as well.
  • There are legal liability risks with non-compliance, including the risk of personal liability for directors and officers.

The laws that employers must comply with are found in legislation and in judge-made law (also called case law). Case law often involves the interpretation of legislation. This section will focus on legislation.

Acts and Regulations

Legislation refers to the Acts and Regulations that are passed by governments. Most nonprofits and charities are governed by provincial employment legislation. Acts must be passed by the legislature while regulations are filed. Regulations do not have to go through the same legislative process as Acts.

When you are looking at legislation, it’s important to look at both the Act and its regulations. Acts set out general requirements whereas the regulations will set out more specific requirements and details. For example, a provincial health and safety Act may require employers to have a first aid kit but the regulation will set out the specific items that must be in the first aid kit. The requirements in a regulation have the same force of law as requirements in an Act, so it's important that you are complying fully with both the Act and the regulations.

Applicable Legislation

Employment laws in Canada are not found in one piece of legislation. There are a number of different types of legislation that apply to employment. Those include the following:

  • Employment Standards
  • Health and Safety
  • Human Rights
  • Privacy
  • Pay Equity
  • Accessibility
  • Labour Relations
  • Official Languages (in Quebec, New Brunswick and for federally regulated employers)

How to Approach Legislation

What do you do when you need to figure out your obligations as an employer? The provincial governments usually provide some guidance, but that guidance will not cover every question that you may have. Ministry websites are a good place to start though. See the following:

Be cautious with any information that you find via internet searches. Make sure the information that you have found relates to the proper jurisdiction and that the information is current. There are often delays in updating online resources, including government resource pages.

Depending on your question or the information that you are looking for, you may need to look at the legislation to get your answer. There are a few steps to follow when looking at legislation:

  • Determine the applicable jurisdiction. If your organization is located in one province and all of your employees are located in that same province, this is a relatively simple exercise. You will need to look at the laws of the province in which you and your employees are located. This question can be more complicated if your organization has employees in more than one province, or in a province other than where the organization is located, including if you have remote workers working from another province. If any of these apply, you should consult with a lawyer to help you determine which province(s)’s laws apply to you.
  • Determine the applicable legislation. There are a number of Acts that apply to the employment relationship. Check the pages on Employment Standards, Health and Safety and Human Rights to see the types of issues covered by each of those Acts. It’s important to note that some topics are covered in different Acts depending on the province, and in some cases, the same topic may be addressed with different requirements in more than one Act. For example, depending on the province, harassment is dealt with in employment standards, health and safety and/or human rights legislation.
  • Review the table of contents. You will need to identify all of the sections in the legislation that might relate to your question. Be sure to also read the definitions at the beginning of the Act and any sections that deal with application. Some legislation contains exemptions or special rules for particular types of employees, such as students, supervisors, managers, IT professionals etc. Read through the relevant sections and be sure to check any other sections that are referenced in the sections you are reading.
  • Follow the same steps for all of the regulations under the Act. You may need to take a look at the table of contents for each regulation to be sure that it does not contain any relevant information. Some regulations have names that suggest what they are about, but others are much less clear. For example, there are many regulations with the title “General” and in Ontario an important regulation under the employment standards legislation is called “When Work Deemed Performed”. The title of the regulation may not be helpful in determining its significance.
  • Watch for changes. Once you have found your answer, be sure to check the legislation periodically in case of changes.

Legislation Changes

Acts and regulations change all the time. On average, there are over 300 changes to employment laws across Canada each year. Acts are changed through the legislative process, which means changes don’t happen immediately. Regulations, on the other hand, can be changed with little or no advance notice. A new regulation or an amending regulation is simply filed. See the Government of Canada’s resource on the legislative process for more information. While this resource outlines the federal government process, it also applies generally to the legislative process in the provinces and territories, with the exception that there is only one chamber (there is no Senate in the provincial/territorial legislatures).

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