Workers' Rights in Canada

Last updated: 23 July 2023

Workers Rights CV Page

Understanding your employment rights – from understanding your contract, workplace safety to fair treatment – is crucial.

This comprehensive guide unravels the complexities of Canadian employment law and protections for newcomers, ensuring that you can navigate your workplace confidently and defend your labour rights if needed.

Table of Contents


Whether you are a permanent resident, temporary foreign worker, or a migrant worker, understanding your rights is a key step in your Canadian journey. This guide covers a wide range of employment aspects such as employment agreement details, healthcare services for workers, addressing workplace injuries and illnesses, handling job loss, changing employers, and much more. By the end of this guide, you'll have a solid understanding of your employment rights in Canada, making you more capable of defending your rights if needed.

For more information on finding and securing employment in Canada visit our dedicated webpage here

What are my rights in Canada as a worker?

In Canada, the rights of all workers, including temporary foreign workers, are protected by law. If you are a temporary foreign worker, you have the same rights and protections as Canadians and permanent residents.

Your employer must:

  • Provide you with information regarding your rights;
  • Furnish you with a signed copy of your employment agreement on or before the first day of work;
  • Pay you according to the terms stated in your employment agreement, including overtime work if specified;
  • Make reasonable efforts to ensure a workplace free from abuse and reprisals; 
  • Adhere to the employment and recruitment standards of the province or territory where you work;
  • Obtain and cover the cost of private health insurance that includes emergency medical care until you are eligible for provincial or territorial health insurance coverage (exceptions can be found in the Health care insurance section); and
  • Make reasonable efforts to grant you access to healthcare services if you sustain an injury or become ill at the workplace.

Your employer cannot:

  • Compel you to perform unsafe work or work that is not authorised in your employment agreement;
  • Force you to work if you are sick or injured;
  • Pressure or coerce you into working overtime that is not included in your employment agreement;
  • Retaliate against you for reporting mistreatment, unsafe work, inadequate housing, or cooperating with a government employee's inspection;
  • Seize your passport or work permit;
  • Deport you from Canada or alter your immigration status; and
  • Demand reimbursement for recruitment-related fees they may have paid to hire you.

What should I know about my employment agreement in Canada?

As a newcomer working in Canada:

  • Your employer is required to provide you with a copy of your employment agreement on or before your first day of work.
  • The agreement should be in English or French, which are the official languages of Canada, and you can choose the language you prefer.
  • Both you and your employer must sign the agreement.
  • The employment agreement should accurately reflect the same occupation, wages, and working conditions as stated in your offer of employment.
  • If either party has been found as compelled or coerced into signing the document, it is not an enforceable contract

What healthcare services are available for workers in Canada?

Access to health care services in Canada is a fundamental right for all workers. As a newcomer, you do not require your employer's permission to seek health care, and in most cases, you do not have to bear the cost of visiting a doctor or receiving hospital care. Once you begin working in a specific province or territory, you will be entitled to free health care through the respective provincial or territorial health insurance system.

However, it is important to note that there might be a waiting period before you are covered by the provincial or territorial health insurance after your arrival in Canada. Your employer has the responsibility to assist you in setting up the necessary health insurance coverage as per the requirements of your province or territory. In situations where you are not yet covered by the provincial or territorial health insurance, your employer must provide and cover the cost of private health insurance that includes emergency medical care. It is important to understand that your employer cannot deduct any amount from your pay for this private health insurance.

Lastly, if you are a seasonal agricultural worker from Mexico or the Caribbean, specific agreements between these countries and Canada might already include provisions for health insurance, making this requirement inapplicable to you.

For more information on healthcare in Canada, visit our dedicated webpage here

What rights and procedures should I be aware of if I get injured or become ill at work? 

Tell your supervisor or employer as soon as possible if you require medical attention and ensure you seek medical attention promptly. It is the responsibility of your employer to make reasonable efforts in providing access to a healthcare provider, such as a doctor, nurse, or pharmacist. This can include actions like granting you time off to seek medical attention, providing a phone for emergency services, offering information on where to go and what to do for healthcare, and assisting you with transportation to the healthcare provider.

However, please note that your employer is not obligated to cover the cost of transportation to hospitals, clinics, doctors, or other healthcare services, except for specific provisions applicable to seasonal agricultural workers. Additionally, you have the right to have private conversations with healthcare providers without the presence of your employer.

What rights and benefits are available if I lose my job in Canada?

Your employer is expected to give you reasonable notice prior to laying you off. In the event that they fail to provide such notice, they are obligated to compensate you with termination pay. The specific amount of termination pay depends on the duration of your employment and the province or territory in which you are employed.

If you find yourself unemployed through no fault of your own or if you leave your job due to experiencing abuse, you might be eligible to receive Employment Insurance benefits.

For detailed information regarding Employment Insurance, you can visit the EI regular benefits page.

What are my rights and procedures for changing employers in Canada?

It is possible for you to switch employers, but it's important to note that your current work permit might only authorise you to work for your current employer. This is the case if you have a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA)-based work permit, as opposed to an Open Work Permit (OWP). If you have an LMIA-based permit, and wish to work for a different employer, you may need to apply for a new work permit before commencing employment. Additionally, the prospective employer must obtain permission from the Government of Canada to hire you as a temporary foreign worker, which may involve re-applying for an LMIA. Note that workers with an OWP can switch their employers at any time within the term of their permit, thought this may have immigration eligibility implications in the future. 

For seasonal agricultural workers, there may be flexibility to change employers without obtaining a new work permit.

To explore job opportunities with Canadian employers who are seeking temporary foreign workers, you can use the Government of Canada Job Bank. The job postings will indicate whether the employer has already applied for or received a positive LMIA, which is a requirement for hiring a temporary foreign worker.

How do I report violations of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program?

In Canada, all workers are safeguarded by Canadian laws that prioritise the protection of temporary foreign workers through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). Severe actions are taken against employers who mistreat workers or exploit the program, which may result in penalties or even a ban from the program.

Anyone can report instances of abuse, including the worker themselves, a colleague, the employer, a member of the public, a foreign consulate, or an advocacy group. Various forms of abuse that can be reported include threats, bullying, or mistreatment, jeopardising one's immigration status, being confined to the workplace or living quarters, confiscation of passports or documents, unpaid wages or denial of time off, and being assigned tasks different from what was agreed upon or outlined in their LMIA.

When making a report, it is crucial to provide as much information as possible. Rest assured that the information you provide is protected by Canada's privacy laws, and your identity as the reporter will never be disclosed to your employer or anyone at your workplace. While giving your name, phone number, or LMIA/work permit number is not mandatory, it can assist in case further information is required. Your information will not be shared or used without your permission. However, due to privacy regulations, we cannot provide updates on the status of a report.

To make a report, you will need the name, address, and phone number of the business or organisation involved, as well as the names or positions of the individuals implicated in the abuse. It is important to clearly describe the nature of the abuse being reported.

To learn more about employer compliance with the TFWP you can visit our dedicated webpage here. A list can also be found here, of employers that have been found non-compliant under the TFWP.

How do I apply for an open work permit if I am a vulnerable worker?

Canada has recently instated a new OWP program for vulnerable workers who may be the victim of abuse at their workplace, so that these individuals may leave their abusive employers without fearing having to leave Canada due to their employment changing.

Workers on an LMIA-based work permit can apply if they are:

  • Inside Canada;
  • Have a valid LMIA-based work permit at the time of applying; and
  • They are experiencing abuse or at risk of being abused at their current workplace.

To learn more about this program, and the exact process of applying, you can visit our dedicated webpage here.

How do I report a workplace health or safety problem?

Contact your provincial or territorial workplace health and safety office if:

  • you have been asked to perform dangerous work;
  • conditions at your workplace are unsafe; and/or
  • you have been injured or sick because of your work.

Below are the contacts for provincial and territorial workplace health and safety offices:

  • Alberta: 1-866-415-8690
  • British Columbia: 1-888-621-7233
  • Manitoba: 1-855-957-7233
  • New Brunswick: 1-800-222-9775
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: 1-800-563-5471
  • Northwest Territories: 1-800-661-0792
  • Nova Scotia: 1-800-952-2687
  • Nunavut: 1-877-404-4407
  • Ontario: 1-877-202-0008
  • Prince Edward Island: 1-800-237-5049
  • Quebec: 1-844-838-0808
  • Saskatchewan: 1-800-567-7233
  • Yukon: 1-800-661-0443

How do I report other employment problems?

If you believe that you are not receiving proper payment, experiencing unfair treatment, or if your employer is not adhering to your employment agreement, it is recommended to get in touch with your provincial or territorial employment standards office using the following contact information:

  • Alberta: 1-877-427-3731
  • British Columbia: 1-833-236-3700
  • Manitoba: 1-800-821-4307
  • New Brunswick: 1-888-452-2687
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: 1-877-563-1063
  • Northwest Territories: 1-888-700-5707
  • Nova Scotia: 1-888-315-0110
  • Nunavut: 1-877-806-8402
  • Ontario: 1-800-531-5551
  • Prince Edward Island: 1-800-333-4362
  • Quebec: 1-800-265-1414
  • Saskatchewan: 1-800-667-1783
  • Yukon: 1-800-661-0408, extension 5944

What rights and protections are available for employees working in the federally regulated sector?

The majority of industries in Canada are overseen by provincial or territorial governments, while some fall under federal regulations. If your workplace is governed by federal regulations, you have the option to file a complaint through an online platform or by contacting 1-800-641-4049. You can consult the provided list of federally regulated industries and workplaces for further guidance.

What are my rights regarding workplace safety and workers’ compensation in Canada?

In Canada, (whether your province or territory is governed by the Occupational Health and Safety Act or its equivalent) all workers have three fundamental rights concerning their health and safety in the workplace:

  • The right to be informed about health and safety concerns;
  • The right to actively participate in decisions that may impact their health and safety; and
  • The right to refuse work that could jeopardise their well-being, as well as that of others.

How does Canada address discrimination and harassment in the workplace?

Both discrimination and harassment are seen as very serious offences in Canada, whether on the part of the employer or the employee.

Employees that may be victim to discrimination or violence have the right to file a notice of occurrence with their employer if they work in a federally regulated industry or workplace. The web form to do so can be found here.

If your workplace is instead regulated by a provincial or territorial authority and you would like to file a notice of occurrence, this can be done so through your provincial or territorial department of labour.

What are my rights regarding leaves and holidays in Canada?

Annual Vacation Entitlement

As a federally regulated employee, you have the following entitlements for your annual vacation:

  • After completing 1 year of continuous employment with the same employer, you are entitled to at least 2 weeks of vacation per year;
  • After 5 consecutive years of working for the same employer, you are entitled to at least 3 weeks of vacation per year; and
  • After 10 consecutive years of working for the same employer, you are entitled to at least 4 weeks of vacation per year.

Definition of "Year of Employment"

A "year of employment" refers to continuous employment for the same employer, which can be defined as:

  • A period of 12 consecutive months starting from the date your employer hired you;
  • A period of 12 consecutive months starting on any anniversary of the date your employer hired you; or
  • A calendar year or another 12-month period determined by your employer in accordance with the Canada Labour Standards Regulations.

Defining the "year of employment" is crucial because you need to complete it before being eligible to take a vacation. The wages earned during your "year of employment" determine the amount of vacation pay you will receive.

Timing of Annual Vacation

Generally, you can take your vacation at a time that is mutually agreed upon with your employer or as set by your employer. However, your vacation must start no later than 10 months after completing each "year of employment." If your employer determines your vacation period, they must provide you with a minimum of 2 weeks' notice.

Calculation of Annual Vacation Pay

Your vacation pay is calculated as a percentage of your gross earnings during your "year of employment" as follows:

  • For a 2-week vacation, the vacation pay is 4% of your earnings.
  • For a 3-week vacation, the vacation pay is 6% of your earnings.
  • For a 4-week vacation, the vacation pay is 8% of your earnings.

Waiving, Postponing, or Splitting Annual Vacation

You have the option to:

  • Waive your vacation.
  • Postpone your vacation.
  • Split your vacation for a specific "year of employment."

However, these options require a written agreement with your employer.

Postponing or Interrupting Annual Vacation for Other Leaves

You can postpone or interrupt your vacation to take leaves such as maternity-related reassignment, maternity leave, parental leave, compassionate care leave, etc.

Annual Vacation Pay during a Leave of Absence

During a leave with pay, your employment status remains unchanged, and you continue to accumulate benefits, including vacation pay and time. On the other hand, during a leave without pay, your seniority continues to accumulate, and vacation pay is calculated based on your wages earned during the "year of employment."

End of Employment Entitlement

When your employment ends, your employer must pay you any vacation pay owed for completed "years of employment" within 30 days. You are also entitled to vacation pay for the partially completed current year of employment.

General Holidays

As a federally regulated employee, you have the right to 10 paid general holidays each year:

  • New Year's Day;
  • Good Friday;
  • Victoria Day;
  • Canada Day;
  • Labour Day;
  • National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (observed on September 30);
  • Thanksgiving Day;
  • Remembrance Day;
  • Christmas Day; and
  • Boxing Day.

Treatment of General Holidays Falling on Non-Working Days

If a general holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, which is a non-working day for you, you are entitled to a paid holiday on the working day immediately before or after that general holiday. For other general holidays falling on non-working days, you may add a paid holiday to your annual vacation with mutual agreement between you and your employer.

Substituting a General Holiday

Employers have the option to substitute a general holiday for another day. For employees under a collective agreement, there must be a written agreement between the employer, union, and employee(s). For employees without a collective agreement, written approval from you or agreement from at least 70% of the employees concerned is required, with a notice posted by the employer for at least 30 days.

Calculation of General Holiday Pay

General holiday pay is calculated based on your wage structure:

  • For most employees, it is at least one-twentieth (1/20th) of wages (excluding overtime pay) earned in the 4-week period before the week of the general holiday.
  • For employees paid in whole or in part by commission, different calculations apply based on the length of continuous employment.
  • For employees in the long shoring industry, specific calculations exist for multi-employer employment.

General Holiday Pay for Part-Time Employees

Part-time employees are entitled to receive pay for the same 10 general holidays, adjusted based on the number of hours worked.

Payment for Working on a General Holiday

Employers are allowed to require work on a general holiday but must provide additional compensation:

  • For employees entitled to holiday pay, working on a general holiday requires a payment of at least 1.5 times the regular rate of wages.
  • Managers and professionals receive their regular rate of pay and are entitled to a holiday with pay at another time.

General Holiday Pay during Leave

Employees on personal leave, leave for victims of family violence, or bereavement leave are entitled to general holiday pay, calculated based on their average daily earnings or as agreed upon in a collective agreement."

For more information, including details for workers who work in a continuous operation, click here.

What are the employment rights specifics in each province?

Below you can find a list linking to each province or territory’s labour rights page, including information about what your rights are, how to file complaints with employers, how to change employers if needed, and much more.

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