We live in a tough economy.

Employers know that we are desperate for work and that many of us don’t know the extent of our rights as employees. That’s how companies scam workers into free labour. To avoid getting screwed, knowing our rights is essential.

Here is what they are in Quebec.

What Employers Must Do

When you start working for someone you enter into a contract. Just because it’s not in writing, doesn’t mean that it’s not there; contracts can be verbal, though written ones are easier to prove. The contract means that for a given or indeterminate period of time, you agree to work for your employer in exchange for compensation.

Your employer is bound to do the following:

1. Allow you to do the work that you agreed to do. That doesn’t just mean not keeping you from your job, but also protecting your health, safety, and dignity in a manner consistent with the nature of the work.

2. Pay you for the work you do. As an employee in Quebec you are entitled to a wage that is at least equivalent to the minimum wage set by the government.

3. Give you a reasonable notice of termination, taking into account the nature of the employment, the circumstances in which the work is carried out, and the duration of the work period.

4. IF the employer insists that you not work for a competitor, it has to be limited to his best interests with regards to the time, place and type of employment. The burden of proof is on the head of your boss, not you, and he can’t make use of that stipulation in your work contract if he fired you without a good reason.

The sale of the company or a change in its legal structure doesn’t automatically mean you’ve lost your job. The buyer remains bound by your contract and has to obey all of it.

What Employers Can’t Do

Employers can’t discriminate against you on the basis of race, colour, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age except as provided by law, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, and a handicap or use of any means to palliate it when deciding whether to hire you or determine the duration of your probation. They also can’t use any of these grounds to fire you, lay you off, transfer or displace you, suspend you, or change your work conditions.

The only time an employer is justified in discriminating against you for any of the above grounds is if he is a non-profit charitable, religious, political, educational, or philanthropic organisation devoted exclusively to the well-being of a given ethnic group. Furthermore, he can’t refuse to hire, dismiss, or penalise you for having been convicted of a crime if the offense had nothing to do with the job.

Employers can’t pay you less than minimum wage, and they can’t pay you less than what they pay other employees for the exact same work, even if you usually work less hours every week. The only exception to this rule is if you’re being paid more than twice the rate of minimum wage.

You have to be paid directly at work on a work day via sealed envelope unless you get paid by bank transfer or mail, and you have to be paid no later than at 16-day intervals. If payday falls on a statutory holiday, you have to be paid before then. Along with the cheque, your employer has to provide you with a pay stub containing enough information for you to figure out how your wages were calculated. Article 46 of An Act Respecting Labour Standards has a list of all the info your pay stub should contain. If an employer paid you less than what you are owed for the work you do, accepting the pay stub doesn’t mean you gave up your right to the missing amount.

normes du travail

The only time an employer is allowed to deduct funds from your paycheque is when he is required to do so by law, a court order, a collective agreement made between your union and your employer, an order or decree, or a mandatory supplemental pension plan. You can consent to other deductions, but you have to do it in writing, and you’re free to withdraw your consent at any time unless it was for a group insurance or pension plan.

If you’re working as a waiter or any other job where you would get tips, the entirety of the tip is yours to keep if it was given to you directly by a customer. Your employer can’t deduct or take into account the amount you got in tips from the pay he owes you. If your boss is the one who collected the tip on your behalf, he owes you the full amount of that tip. Your boss also can’t make you share your tips, nor can he intervene in the establishment of a tip-sharing arrangement between you and any other employees entitled to tips.

A regular workweek is 40 hours except where government regulations say otherwise. Any work your are made to do above and beyond those hours entitles you to your hourly wage plus 50%.

This is just the tip of it. The full list of your rights as employees can be found in An Act Respecting Labour Standards, the Civil Code, and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Where an employer fails in his obligations to you or does anything he’s not supposed to, you can take him to the Commission des normes du travail or any other organisation authorized by law to punish bad bosses.

These are the Commission’s information numbers: 1-800-265-1414 (toll free), 514-873-7061 (in Montreal). Their staff is there to let you know what your rights are. Call them when you need them.