The law in Quebec requires an employee to be loyal towards his employer. This means that an employee must:
- be honest with his employer while he works for him
- use good judgment in his role as an employee
- put the interests of his employer above his own
- protect confidential information
The duty of loyalty is based on the idea that an employer should be able to trust an employee both at work and outside the workplace.
An employee must respect his duty of loyalty regardless of the industry he works in or position he has. However, if an employee has heavy responsibilities within a company, such as a management position, his duty to be loyal may be greater.
Even a former employee must be loyal to his former employer. For more information about this, see our article Going to Work for a Competitor.
I did not sign an employment contract when I started working for my employer. Do I still have to be loyal to him?
Yes. Employment contracts can be written or verbal, so even if you did not sign an employment contract, you still have one. Every employee must act with loyalty toward his employer even if this duty has not been written down anywhere.
What kinds of behaviour are disloyal to my employer?
Here are some of the types of behaviour that are considered disloyal to your employer:
- lying or being dishonest with your employer
- stealing from your employer
- putting what is best for you before what is best for your employer (also called "being in a conflict of interest")
- misusing confidential information for your own benefit or to benefit others
- intentionally damaging your employer's reputation or harming his business
- spreading false information about your employer
What happens if I am disloyal to my employer?
It depends on the circumstances. The consequences of not being loyal can vary.
For example, an employee might simply receive a warning. He might also be sued and/or fired. A judge can even order an employee to stop his disloyal behaviour. However, an "injunction" (the legal name of the judge's order to stop doing something), is used more often when the employee signed a non-competition agreement.
If you find yourself in this situation, it could be helpful to speak to a legal professional.
Can I use the Internet for my personal use while I am at work?
No. Unless it is justified by the type of work you do or permitted by your employer, using the Internet or accessing online social networking sites (like Facebook, Twitter, etc.) during your work hours is disloyal to your employer. If an employee spends a lot of time surfing the Internet for personal reasons, the quality and speed of his work will be affected.
Your office computer is a work tool. This means your employer can decide how the Internet can be used while you are on the job.
Can my employer access my computer to make sure I respect his Internet policy?
Even though you have a right to privacy at work, the computers at the office belong to your employer. This means that your employer has a right to examine files and Internet activity stored on his computers if he has a good reason to do so and if this type of supervision is needed to keep his workplace working properly.
An employer can impose disciplinary measures on an employee for Internet use that violates the employer's Internet policy. In some cases, an employee can even be fired because of excessive personal Internet use.
Many employers have policies to control what their employees do online while at work. Find out about the rules on Internet use in your workplace before you learn the hard way!
Can I publicly criticize my employer if I am unhappy at work?
No. This type of behaviour goes against your duty to be loyal to your employer. You cannot intentionally damage your employer's reputation or that of his business, or make public comments degrading his products or services. You have the right to express yourself but you must show respect for your employer and help protect his reputation.
For example, after weeks of working long overtime hours, John decided to publish an article in the local paper criticizing his employer for imposing an unreasonable schedule on employees. By making this situation public, John violated his obligation to be loyal. He intentionally damaged his employer's reputation. Instead, John should have expressed how he felt in private, spoken to someone in his human resources department or to a supervisor, or discussed it with his co-workers.
Can I use my employer's office supplies and equipment for my personal use?
No. As an employee, you cannot use your employer's materials for your own benefit. This type of behaviour is disloyal and can have a negative impact on your employer's interests.
For example, John cannot take home packages of printer paper for his kids, nor print his daughter's science fair project on the colour printer at his office.
Do I have to keep information about my job secret even if I have not signed anything asking me to do this?
Yes. Being loyal to your employer means keeping the confidential information you have found about about on the job to yourself. There are different types of confidential information that you must protect as part of your duty to be loyal. Here are some examples:
- trade secrets belonging to your employer (for example, the top secret recipe for the BBQ King's famous sauce)
- financial information about your employer or the business
- private information about your employer's clients
As well, you cannot sell information that belongs to your employer, or use it in any way that would bring you a profit or have a negative impact on your employer.
Why is my employer making me sign a document saying that I promise to keep my work secret?
The duty of loyalty requires all employees to protect confidential business information. However, some employers decide to take extra steps to be sure their employees will not use information in an inappropriate way.
If your employer asks you to sign this type of document, called a confidentiality agreement, it means he wants to make sure that you will keep the information you have access to secret. This type of agreement might be part of your employment contract or a separate document. The document creates a larger responsibility that goes beyond your basic duty to be loyal to your employer.
What happens if I use my employer's confidential information in a way that I was not supposed to?
It depends. The consequences of misusing confidential information can vary.
If you have not signed a confidentiality agreement:
- You could be fired and/or sued by your employer for not respecting your duty of loyalty to your employer.
- If a court is asked to determine the consequences of your lack of loyalty, it will consider:
- the damage your actions caused to your employer
- the intensity of your duty of loyalty, (for example, whether you are an assistant or a manager)
If you have signed a confidentiality agreement:
- The legal consequences could be greater.
- You could be fired and/or sued by your employer for not respecting your confidentiality agreement.
- If a court is asked to determine the consequences of your lack of loyalty, it will look at the following factors:
- the damage your actions caused to your employer
- the fact that you violated your general duty of loyalty
- the extent to which you did not respect your confidentiality agreement
- the punishment set out in the confidentiality agreement
If you find yourself in this type of situation, it could be helpful to speak with a legal professional.
One of my colleagues did something that goes against our office policy. Do I need to report this to my employer?
It depends. In general, you must be honest with your employer about what is going on in your workplace because it is part of your obligation to be loyal to him. Your employer might have a procedure for you to follow to discretely reveal what is going on.
It is important to note, however, that the obligation of loyalty does not require you to report everything that goes on in your workplace. You must report incidents that could have a negative impact on your workplace or your employer's business.
Also, if your employer asks you about an incident involving a colleague, the obligation of loyalty requires you to tell him the truth, even if it means reporting your colleague. Remember that the duty of loyalty requires you to put your employer's interests above your own.
For example, if John sees a colleague leaving work five minutes before the end of the day, this is not going have a major impact on his employer, so he does not need to say anything. On the other hand, if John sees a colleague stealing money from the company's cash register, his employer needs to be notified because this is damaging to the company's interests.
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.