Rights and Responsibilities of Employers and Employees


For things to go well at work, the employer and the employee must each respect certain legal obligations.

Important! If you are a self-employed worker, this article doesn’t apply to you as an employee. However, it might apply to you as an employer if you hire employees. 

Main Responsibilities of Employees 

Employees have responsibilities towards their employers, even if they work part time or don’t have a written contract with their employers. 

These are the main responsibilities of employees:

  • to personally do the work they were hired to do 
  • to do their work carefully and seriously (In some cases, they could be fired or disciplined if they’re often late for work, or if they’re absent too often or for no good reason.) 
  • to avoid putting themselves or others in danger   
  • to follow their employer’s instructions (There are some exceptions. For example, if an employer asks an employee to do something dangerous or illegal, the employee doesn’t have to follow these instructions. 
  • to be loyal and honest

When Employees Don’t Respect Their Responsibilities 

If employees don’t respect their responsibilities, the employer is allowed to take certain actions: 

  • discipline employees, such as giving a written warning, or suspending them 
  • take other action against employees, such as giving a letter evaluating their  performance, or demoting them (that is, giving them a lower job) 
  • fire employees if they do something very serious, such as stealing from the office 
  • take employees to court to make them pay an amount of money (for example, if the employee quits without telling the employer in advance, or if the employee quits before the date in the employment contract)
  • take employees to court to stop them from doing things that are harmful to the business

Employers’ Responsibilities Towards Employees 

These are the main ones:  

  • Employers must give their employees a place to work and make sure they have access to it. They must give them the tools, equipment and other things they need to do their work. 
  • Employers must pay their employees the salary and benefits they agreed to, including vacation, paid holidays and other types of holidays.  
  • Employers must make sure that working conditions protect their employees’ physical and psychological health and safety.  
  • In some cases, employers must give their employees written notice that their contracts are ending or that they are being laid off. Note that employers can pay employees a sum of money instead of giving the notice. 
  • Employers must treat their employees with respect. They must make sure their employees are not harassed or discriminated against.
  • Employers must take steps when they know, or reasonably should know, that employees are exposed to domestic, family or sexual violence in the workplace. They must do this whether the employee is working in the office or working from home.

NOTE: If an employee signs a written contract with the employer, it might place more responsibilities on the employer than the ones required by law. 

For example, an employment contract might say that the employer has to pay employees who have to use their own cars to do their jobs. Or the contract might also say that the employer has to pay back their employees for travel or entertainment expenses if they show their receipts. 

When Employers Don’t Respect Their Responsibilities

Employees and employers can try to settle things by talking to each other. In some cases, employees must try talking to their employer before taking any further steps. 

Employees can file a complaint with the following: 

The office or tribunal at which to file a complaint depends on which law applies to the situation, the jurisdiction, the amount of money the employee is asking for and whether the employee belongs to a union.  

If the employee belongs to a union, the union can usually present a grievance (a complaint) on the employee’s behalf for situations like these:

  • The employee disagrees with the employer about what the union contract (called a “collective agreement”) says. 
  • The employer did not respect one of the employee’s legal rights.

A person called the “grievance arbitrator” decides whether the grievance is justified. If the disagreement is about the employee’s health and safety at work, the employee can file a complaint with the CNESST in certain cases.

Employees should talk to a labour law expert before quitting a job. The expert can tell employees how quitting will affect their rights to file a complaint. The expert can also tell them how to prevent their employer from taking them to court after quitting.  

Unionized Workplaces  

The employer and the union can agree on the employees’ working conditions, for example, annual vacations, pay increases and sick leave. These working conditions are then written in the collective agreement. A collective agreement is a contract between the employer and all the employees. It is the union that negotiates the collective agreement with the employer. The union acts on behalf of all the employees. The responsibilities contained in the collective agreement are in addition to the responsibilities contained in the law.