In Quebec, the Act respecting labour standards protects employees by providing minimum acceptable working conditions.
The Act respecting labour standards
This law says what is legally acceptable with regards to salaries, the length of the workweek, holidays, termination, etc.
An employer can go beyond the protections given under the Act and offer better working conditions, but he can never offer less. Employers must respect the standards set out in the Act. If they do not, they can be fined or sued.
The Act respecting labour standards is a law of “public order”. That means that statements in work contracts that give an employee less than what is in the Act are not valid.
What is covered by the Act respecting labour standards?
The Act establishes basic rules on the following subjects:
- minimum wage
- length of the regular workweek
- vacation time
- public holidays
- sick days
- absence for family reasons
- rights of workers who have been let go
- notice of termination of employment, layoff or collective dismissal, and work certificates
- who must pay for uniforms, equipment, travel and mandatory training
- work performed by children
- psychological harassment
What is the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail?
The Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST or labour standards, pay equity and workplace health and safety board) is in charge, amongst other things, of applying the Act respecting labour standards and informing the public about workplace rules.
It also handles complaints from employees, investigates these complaints and, if necessary, compensates employees according to the law. The CNESST is also responsible for trying to get employers and employees to resolve their disputes about labour standards.
Finally, the CNESST has the power to sue an employer to recover money that the employer should have paid to an employee but which the Commission paid instead.
Is it legal to hire child workers?
Yes, if certain rules are followed.
Employers cannot hire children under 14 years old without the written permission of one of the child’s parents. Children cannot work during school hours. Also, they cannot work between 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., unless the child is over 16, works as a paper delivery person or is a performer (actor, singer, etc.).
The work must not exceed the child’s capacities and cannot compromise the child’s development, health or education.
Who is covered by the Act respecting labour standards?
This law applies to most employees in Quebec. An employee is a person who works for an employer and who has the right to a salary.
Important! Some workers are not covered by this law. For example, these workers are not covered:
- self-employed workers, that is people who run their own businesses
- people working in businesses governed by federal laws. This is the case for federal government employees and people who work banks (except caisses populaires), radio stations, television stations, interprovincial transport businesses, ports, telecommunication businesses, etc.
The labour standards for these people are in the Canada Labour Code, which is a federal law.
Also, some workers are only partly covered by this law. These workers only benefit from the law’s protections against psychological harassment and forced retirement. This is the case for these workers:
- students working during the school year in an establishment chosen by an educational institution pursuant to an internship or career orientation program approved by the government
- people who take care of a child, sick or disabled person, or older adult at the home of that person, either occasionally or when their employment is based on a relationship of assistance to the family or community help and as long as their employers do not make money from this service. An example is teenagers who babysit children on a Saturday night when parents are out.
- athletes required to attend a school program to stay on a sports team
Senior management employees and construction workers benefit from the protections against forced retirement and psychological harassment, and also have rights relating to unpaid absences for family reasons and paternity, maternity and parental leaves.
Although these people are excluded from all of the other rights and protections under this law, their work contracts or other laws might offer them protection.
Do the same labour standards apply to all categories of workers?
No. Sometimes this law creates exceptions for certain categories of workers, such as domestic workers, farm workers and employees in the clothing industry. There are also other small exceptions for other categories of workers.
Here are two examples:
- The regular workweek of most employees is 40 hours. The regular workweek of an employee working in a sawmill is 47 hours.
- Most employees have the right to a yearly paid vacation. Real estate agents paid entirely on commission do not have this right.
In my workplace, I am considered a manager. Can I still be an “employee” under the Act respecting labour standards?
Yes. Having a title like "supervisor" or "manager” doesn’t automatically make you "management" under the law. You are covered by this law if you don’t have a great deal of decision-making power and your work tasks are dictated to you.
Suppose you supervise a work team in a large business. Every week, you have a meeting with the section head who tells you what to make your team do. In that case, you might still be considered an employee under the Act respecting labour standards.
Even if you are considered as "management" with a lot of decision-making and administrative authority, some of the labour standards and protections under the Act still apply to you. Here are some examples:
- absences for family reasons
- paternity, maternity and parental leaves
- protection against psychological harassment
- protection against forced retirement
Am I protected under the Act respecting labour standards if my employer sends me to work outside Quebec?
Yes. The Act applies to employees wherever they do their work. If the employer has a business, headquarters, factory, place of business or office in Quebec, that employer must respect the Act.
If you usually work in Quebec and your employer sends you to work abroad, you still benefit from the Act’s protections, even though you are working in another country.
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.