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Smithson: Perceived entitlements your employment doesn’t include
I don’t know if it’s a sign of the times or simply that I’m getting older and crankier, but it seems like employees today have a misplaced sense of entitlement.
They often seem to think their employer’s obligations extend well beyond what the law requires.
In B.C., employers’ obligations arise expressly out of statutes such as the Employment Standards Act and Workers Compensation Act and Human Rights Code.
They also arise, by implication, out of the common law of employment (which is really just a specific flavour of the law of contract).
So, what things are employers not obligated to provide to their employees? Let’s start with benefits coverage.
Medical, dental, extended health, life insurance, accidental death and dismemberment, and short and long-term disability insurance coverage are all items that are commonly provided as part of the compensation package. But, employers are not obligated to do so and, as a result, employees have no “right” to those perquisites of employment.
Employers do not have to provide or contribute to a private pension plan (they do have to make Canada Pension Plan contributions on their employees’ behalf).
They also are not required to provide any matching of employees’ contributions to a Registered Retirement Savings Plan.
Employers are also not obligated to provide paid sick leave to their employees.
Although it is common, particularly in unionized public sector environments (where your tax dollars are paying the bills), for employees to receive paid sick leave, this is totally a matter of discretion for employers.
On a similar theme, in most jurisdictions employers are not required to provide employees with paid breaks. Aside from the narrow range of paid absences imposed by employment standards legislation (including paid vacation and statutory holiday pay), employers have no legal obligation to pay employees for not working.
Employers also are not required to give employees annual pay increases. The annual raise—sometimes in the form of a “cost of living” (COLA) increase—has become a staple of the modern workplace, but employers are totally within their rights to establish wage rates and leave them unchanged indefinitely.
Another item which has become entrenched in the world of employment is the severance package—people seem to feel entitled to be paid a sizeable lump sum to leave their employment in a whole range of circumstances.
But, employers are entitled to impose terms of employment limiting working notice (or pay in lieu) to statutorily imposed minimums eight weeks for individual terminations.
And, if the employer provides adequate working notice, no severance payment is required at all.
The same rule applies for the other compensation and related obligations imposed in employment standards legislation.
Employers are not obligated, for instance, to pay beyond the statutory minimum wage or to provide greater vacation, overtime, and statutory holiday compensation than that which is established in the applicable statute.
In the human rights context, employers are required to accommodate an employee’s disabling condition. They are not, however, obligated to engage in endless accommodation efforts which impose an undue hardship on their business.
And, they are not required to accommodate an employee who does not assist with, or facilitate, those accommodation efforts.
Employees are not entitled to be provided with cellular telephones, internet access, and car allowances.
And, employers are not required to tolerate their employees making personal use of working time to talk on the telephone, surf the Internet, post their latest status update on Facebook, etc.
In a society in which the term “rights” is increasingly tossed around as if such things were carved on a tablet and carried down from a mountaintop, it’s important to recognize the point at which employers’ legal obligations end. Anything beyond that is simply a matter of negotiation.
Robert Smithson is a labour and employment lawyer, and operates Smithson Employment Law in Kelowna. This subject matter is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.