Handling employee complaints under the Act

Detrimental treatment is strictly prohibited

The British Columbia Employment Standards Act exists to ensure employees in this province enjoy certain minimum standards of pay and working conditions.  Where the employer is not meeting the standards set in the Act, employees have a protected right to complain without retaliation from the employer.

Under Section 83 of the Act, the employer is prohibited from “mistreating” an employee because of a complaint or investigation.  This means that the employer must continue employing a person who complains to, or threatens to complain to, the Director of Employment Standards, even while that claim is ongoing.  Section 83 sets out the following duty:

An employer must not

(a) refuse to employ or refuse to continue to employ a person,

(b) threaten to dismiss or otherwise threaten a person,

(c) discriminate against or threaten to discriminate against a person with respect to employment or a condition of employment, or

(d) intimidate or coerce or impose a monetary or other penalty on a person,

because a complaint or investigation may be or has been made under this Act or because an appeal or other action may be or has been taken or information may be or has been supplied under this Act.

Not only must the employer not dismiss the employee who complains or threatens to complain, but the employer must not take any detrimental action against them at all.

Liability for breach of Section 83

Section 83 is one of the most powerful sections of the Act because it protects an important employee right.  Where the Director of Employment Standards determines that the employer has retaliated contrary to Section 83, the remedies available to the employee include:

  • Reinstatement to their job and pay in lieu of wages lost as a result of the retaliation
  • Compensate the employee in lieu of wages lost as a result of the retaliation

In practice, “wages lost” can mean compensating the employee for the length of time they are searching for new work.  Depending on how long this takes, the lost wages remedy can be extremely onerous for the employer.  Where a breach is found, the Employment Standards Branch and Tribunal will apply these rules generously in favour of the employee.

EmployRight can help make sense of your legal obligations

If you have questions about your obligations to your employees under the British Columbia Employment Standards Act, a Human Resources professional may not the expertise needed to avoid costly legal missteps.  Contact EmployRight and speak with an employment lawyer to learn your obligations and implement workplace procedures that will prevent legal disputes.

The information provided on this page is a general overview of the retaliation rules set out in the BC Employment Standards Act.  It should not be taken as legal advice.  For answers to specific questions about your workplace obligations, contact EmployRight and speak with one of our employment lawyers.