Employment law, as an area, is the source of rules, obligations and responsibilities which govern employment relationships. The purpose of this article is to inform you about important employment law resources you can access and use to become better informed about employment law and how it governs employment relationships.
First, a common mistake: every so often we receive a phone call or email from a non-federal employee citing federal employment law rules. Federal employment law only applies to federal employees. For everyone else – i.e. the vast majority of employees and employers – provincial laws apply. This means most employment relationships in Alberta are governed by Alberta provincial law. This article only discusses Alberta employment law.
The Employment Standards Code (Code) is the main source of employment law in Alberta. Employees and employers cannot waive their rights and remedies under the Code and it provides minimum standards and rules. As examples, the Code sets out minimum wage, hours of work, and entitlements like maternity leave. The Code also deals with termination of employment relationships – one of the most contentious areas of employment law.
Fortunately for Albertans, the Code is easy to access and available, for free, online. Alberta Labour (work.alberta.ca) also maintains several webpages that explain employment rules in plain, easy-to-understand language. If you have a question about an employment relationship, the Alberta Labour website is a good place to start looking for answers.
The Alberta Human Rights Act (Act) is another important source of employment law. The Act deals with discrimination in the workplace, and provides rules for fostering respectful and inclusive work environments free of discrimination.
Complaints made under the Act are decided by the Alberta Human Rights Commission (AHRC). The AHRC’s website (www.alberta.humanrights.ab.ca) provides answers to frequently asked questions, and a portal for submitting complaints. This website is a great starting place for individuals with questions about workplace discrimination.
The last source of employment law is the “common law” and it is much more challenging to navigate. “Common law” refers to law made through decisions, usually by a judge. The common law of employment incorporates decisions from courts, the AHRC, WCB, and more.
When dealing with an employment issue, it is important to look at all sources of law. For example, under the common law a terminated employee may be entitled to “reasonable notice” of termination in addition to his rights under the Code. In some cases, the period of reasonable notice can be weeks (or months) longer than the minimums set out in the Code!
Lawyers are skilled at reading and interpreting law and applying the law to the facts. Our job is to help you understand the law and provide you with options for moving forward with your employment law issue.
If you have an employment law issue, I recommend you visit free online resources before meeting a lawyer because online resources are a good starting point. However, employment law is a complex area and not everything on the internet is reliable or trustworthy. If you still have questions about an employment matter, your best source for advice and information is a skilled and knowledgeable lawyer.