B.C. Labour Laws: Everything Your Small Business Needs to Know

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, accounting, or tax advice. The information contained herein is subject to change and may vary from time to time in your region. For specific advice applicable to your business, please contact a professional.

Opening a business has stressful moments, but being your own boss can be exhilarating. To ensure your success, you must learn and adopt certain rules that apply to business ownership in British Columbia — especially if you hire employees. B.C. labour laws set the bar for the province’s standards of employment. The B.C. Employment Standards Act (complete with recent updates as of October 2021) outlines the roles, rights and responsibilities for owners, employers and employees within the province of British Columbia.

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Roles and Responsibilities

As a business owner, you’re responsible for providing a healthy and safe environment for consumers. If you also hire employees, you must uphold the rules set forth for both owners and employers.

Business owner responsibilities include:

  • Maintain your storefront or business property in a manner that promotes and ensures healthy and safe working and visiting conditions.
  • Tell employers and/or contractors about any potentially hazardous conditions or aspects of the property to eliminate or control said hazards.
    Comply with all orders regarding health and safety.

Employer responsibilities include:

  • Establish a valid program for workplace safety.
  • Train new and established employees on proper safety procedures when carrying out their tasks, and provide supervision during tasks.
  • Ensure that supervisors are trained properly and that they have the requisite support to carry out their responsibilities.
  • Make sure first aid supplies are available conspicuously and that attendants are available to handle possible injuries.
  • Conduct regular inspections to ensure your workplace is in top working order.
  • Investigate all issues reported by employees.
  • Fix all problems as soon as possible.
  • Provide transport to the nearest medical facility if an employee is injured.
  • Report any injuries that require medical attention to WorkSafeBC.
  • Investigate all incidents in which employees were harmed or equipment was damaged.
  • Submit all supporting documents to WorkSafeBC in a timely fashion.

Employee responsibilities include:

  • Identifying potential hazards and reporting them to a supervisor immediately.
  • Following proper protocols for workplace safety.
  • Using any protective devices or equipment and wearing and using them appropriately.
  • Cooperating with any representatives of any occupational health committee or program.
  • Obtaining medical treatment immediately if you are injured at your place of work.
  • Reporting to medical personnel that your injury was sustained on the job.
  • Following all directions from medical personnel upon release from clinic or hospital.
  • Modify your duties when you return to work — do not immediately return to your full workload.

Do not report to work if you have alcohol or another mind-altering substance in your system — even if you just haven’t had enough sleep, you should not report to work because your ability to do your job could be compromised.

All parties in the employer-employee relationship must work in concert to provide the best working environment for everyone involved.

What Are the Employment Standards for British Columbia?

There have been several updates to the Employment Standards Act (ESA) in 2021. On October 15, new rules came into effect that brought British Columbia in line with international standards for children’s employment. Prior to the October update, British Columbia was the only Canadian province whose general minimum working age was as young as 12. These amends came two months after changes related to employment investigative processes, on August 15.

What Are the New Rules Protecting Young Workers?

The new rules raise the general working age in British Columbia from 12 to 16, and define appropriate jobs for those under 16.

Youth aged 14 and 15 are able to do work defined as ‘light work’ with permission from a parent or guardian. In some cases, children of these ages may be allowed to work outside the definition of light work with a permit from the Ministry of Labour’s Employment Standards Branch.

The ESA amends in October do not prevent children from babysitting or delivering newspapers part time. Students may work in a work-study or work experience class.

Children aged 12 and above can continue to be employed in a business or on a farm if it is owned by an immediate family member – as long as the work meets safety criteria.

What is the Definition of ‘Light Work’?

Occupations now considered as light work for 14- and 15-year-olds include:

  • cashier
  • computer programmer
  • golf caddy
  • lifeguard or lifeguard assistant
  • messenger or courier
  • peer counsellor
  • performing artist
  • recreation or community program attendant
    referee or umpire
  • salesperson, other than door-to-door
  • server of food or drink, other than alcohol
  • sports or recreational coach or instructor
  • summer or day camp leader
  • tutor or instructor
  • visual artist or graphic designer
  • writer, editor or similar

Occupations and situations now generally considered as unsafe for under-16s include:

  • repairing, maintaining or operating heavy machinery
    places where a minor is not permitted to enter
  • sites of construction, heavy manufacturing and heavy industrial work
  • sites designed to retain an oxygen-deficient or toxic atmosphere
  • walk-in freezers or coolers, other than to place or retrieve an item
    handling substances that minors cannot legally purchase, use or distribute
  • lifting, carrying or moving heavy items or animals
  • using, handling or applying hazardous substances like pesticides

Did anything else change on October 15?

In addition to the above amendments, the definition of a ‘domestic worker’ became ‘a person who is employed at an employer’s private residence to provide cooking, cleaning, childcare or other prescribed services’.

What changes came into effect on August 15?

Broadly, the August amendments alter the investigations, complaints and determinations process. The Director of Employment Standards can initiate an investigation into ESA compliances and regulations at any time, and for any reason. They can also stop or postpone an investigation in the same way.

If an employee’s contract is terminated, they must file a complaint within six months of their last day of employment. The amendments explicitly state an employee may ask for an extension. If the Director is satisfied ‘special circumstances exist or existed’ and an ‘injustice would otherwise result’, the Director can extend the period to file a complaint.

If the Director decides an employee’s complaint may relate to other employees, the Director may ‘conduct a broader investigation’. If said broader investigation does not resolve the issues of the original complaint, the Director must still investigate the original complaint.

There is no requirement for the Director to provide an oral hearing to anyone under investigation. The ESA states the Director ‘must make reasonable efforts’ to provide persons investigated with ‘an opportunity to respond’, a new rule clarifies this does not extend to an oral hearing.
Upon completion of an investigation, a new formal process has been introduced. The Director must draft a written report to summarize. Then, the person who complained, the person against the complaint was filed, and any other person the Director thinks should be allowed to respond, are given an opportunity to do so. The Director must then consider the responses.

Have Any Rules Been Added to the ESA regarding COVID-19?

One of the biggest effects to global business of late is of course the COVID-19 pandemic. Governments were forced to act fast to coronavirus, and British Columbia introduced related changes to the ESA on March 23, 2020. This is an important amendment for anyone with employees to consider.

Any employee who is diagnosed with COVID-19 can take unpaid, job-protected leave if:

  • the employee is acting in accordance with orders or instructions from a medical health officer, medical practitioner, nurse practitioner or registered nurse
  • the employee is in quarantine or self-isolation in accordance with guidelines
  • the employer has directed the employee not to work due to concerns about the employee’s exposure to others
  • the employee is providing care to an eligible person as a result of a COVID-related issue, including caring for an eligible person due to school closure or day care closure. Eligible persons include children or people with a disability.
  • If the person is outside of British Columbia and is unable to return due to travel or border restrictions.

This amendment was made retroactive to January 27, 2020. Any employer who terminated an employee between January 27 and March 23 due to the above circumstances must offer the terminated employee either the same job or a comparable position. Upon reinstatement, the employee’s absence must be deemed a leave of absence.

Can an employer request proof an employee has or has had COVID-19?

An employer can request reasonably sufficient proof, but must not request a note from a medical practitioner, nurse practitioner or registered nurse.

What Rights Do You Have as an Employer in British Columbia?

You have several rights as a business owner and employer in British Columbia. The most important of these rights is your right to safeguard your business interests. You have the right to:

  • Restrict employees by implementing non-solicitation or non-compete agreements, as well as have employees sign confidentiality agreements
  • Protect your company’s intellectual property, such as proprietary software or open-source platforms
  • Protect any of your company’s proprietary information
  • To serve an injunction against any party who violates these agreements

Your employees also have rights in addition to the those brought forth by the ESA.

What Rights Do Employees Have in British Columbia?

Employees have the right to:

  • Be alerted to any potential workplace hazards
  • Be part of any safety activities or trainings on your premises
  • Refuse work they may feel is unsafe without fear of retaliation or termination

Knowing your rights and responsibilities regarding B.C. labour laws is an important aspect of conducting your daily business activities. As a business owner in British Columbia, you can foster an environment of safety, trust and a great work ethic if you take the time to understand your role, as well as those of your employees.

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