Employment Standards Legislation

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

Employment standards legislation sets out the minimum standards of employment required by law. You cannot contract out of these minimum standards. Almost every province/territory specifically provides that a contract or agreement that provides for less than the minimum standards is invalid. Your employment agreements and any policies that you develop must not provide less than what is required in the employment standards legislation. You must also ensure that you continue to meet all minimum standards when you are terminating an employee’s employment.

Employers are free, however, to provide greater benefits than what is provided for in the employment standards legislation.

Employment standards cover many of the day-to-day aspects of employment including, but not limited to, the following topic areas:

  • Minimum wage
  • Youth employment
  • Minimum daily pay
  • Leaves of absence, including pregnancy and parental leave
  • Meal breaks
  • Resolving disputes
  • Payment of earnings (paydays)
  • Termination
  • Hours of work
  • Maternity leave
  • Overtime
  • Weekly day of rest
  • Statutory holidays
  • Deductions
  • Annual vacation
  • Keeping records
  • Vacation pay
  • Harassment
  • Probationary periods
  • Parental leave
  • Pay equality and transparency

When looking at these requirements, consider the following:

  • Are there any policy requirements? The employment standards legislation in some jurisdictions requires you to have certain policies in place.
  • Remember that other laws may also apply, including both judge-made law and other legislation. For example, termination of employment is also governed by judge-made law that is just as important as the legislation. In some jurisdictions, harassment is also dealt with in Health and Safety or Human Rights legislation.
  • What records are you required to keep, and for how long? All employment standards acts have record keeping requirements, but the exact records and retention periods vary by jurisdiction. Record keeping isn’t just a requirement under the law though, it is also good practice. Proper record keeping helps you to respond to queries or complaints and helps you track your compliance with the legislation. Attached is a report summarizing Employment Standards Record Requirements (PDF, 488 KB) for each of the provinces and the federal jurisdiction (prepared by Compliance Works Inc.).

Definition of "Employee"

The employment standards legislation in each province defines “employee”. This is an important definition that varies slightly from one jurisdiction to another. Review the definition so that you understand who is considered an “employee” for the purposes of the legislation. Consider whether an employee includes trainees, students, interns, volunteers or others.

You also need to be aware that judge-made law (also called case law) is relevant to determining whether someone is an employee. Organizations will sometimes classify a worker as an independent contractor or consultant so that they can avoid employment standards obligations and payroll remittances and withholdings. Be aware that if a worker meets the legal definition of an “employee” (both under legislation and according to case law) you need to treat the worker as an employee. Consult a lawyer whenever you are considering hiring someone as an independent contractor or consultant. Misclassifying someone as an independent contractor when they are properly an employee can be very costly.


Practically all nonprofit organizations in Canada fall under provincial/territorial jurisdiction. If your organization and all of your employees are located in one jurisdiction, you will be governed by the law of that province. However, if you have employees in other provinces or territories, including employees who are working remotely, you will need to determine which provincial or territorial legislation applies. You may be required to comply with the laws of more than one province or territory.

The provincial and territorial governments all provide online resources regarding employment standards.


British Columbia


New Brunswick

Newfoundland and Labrador

Northwest Territories

Nova Scotia



Prince Edward Island




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This article was provided by Compliance Works Inc. Compliance Works is an online legal information platform, which makes HR compliance fast, easy, and accessible - no matter the size or complexity of your organization. Compliance Works provides plain language summaries of employment law requirements in its unique online platform, and its automated systems provide subscribers with customized alerts of any changes in real-time. Significant discounts are provided to non-profit organizations. For more information, or to start a Free Trial, go to www.complianceworks.ca


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