In Quebec, the Act respecting labour standards protects most employees by providing minimum acceptable working conditions.
The Act respecting labour standards applies to most employees in Quebec, including those working remotely (for example, working from home). An employee is someone who works for an employer and receives a salary.
The Act respecting labour standards says what is legally acceptable regarding working conditions. It sets out minimum standards 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 and sexual harassment
An employer can always offer better working conditions than those guaranteed by the Act respecting labour standards but can never impose working conditions inferior to those guaranteed by this law.
If an employer does not respect these minimum standards, they could face fines or lawsuits. An employee dealing with a labour standards problem can contact the the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST) for assistance.
Some employees do not benefit from the protection of this law
Construction workers benefit from the protections against forced retirement and psychological and sexual harassment. In addition, they have the right to ten days of unpaid leave a year for family reasons and to parental leave. However, they are excluded from other rights under this law.
Managers are not generally protected by the Act respecting labour standards. However, they do benefit from some of its protections. For example, they have the right to unpaid leave for family reasons. They are also protected against psychological and sexual harassment, and forced retirement.
To be legally considered a “manager” an employee must have a significant decision-making authority. The job title of “supervisor” or “manager” does not automatically make someone a manager for the purposes of labour standards.
For example, an employee who supervises a team in a big company, and has a weekly meeting with a section head who sets out the tasks to be completed by the team, might still be considered a non-managerial employee.
Employees who benefit only from protections against psychological and sexual harassment and forced retirement
The following employees benefit only from the law’s protections against psychological and sexual harassment and forced retirement:
- 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.
Although these people are excluded from all the other rights and protections under this law, their work contracts or other laws might offer them protection.
Labour standards for different types of work
Legal standards may differ according to the type of work a person is doing. In particular, different labour standards apply to domestic workers, agricultural workers, and workers in the clothing sector. Some other categories of work involve minor exceptions to the usual labour standards.
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.
Labour standards outside Quebec
If an employer sends an employee to work outside of Quebec, the employee is still protected by the Act Respecting Labour Standards. This law applies to employees wherever they carry out their work.
If the employer has a business, headquarters, factory, place of business, or office in Quebec, that employer must respect the Act.
Employees totally excluded from the Act
Some workers are not covered by this law. For example, self-employed workers, that is, people who run their own businesses.
People working in companies governed by federal laws are also excluded. This is the case for employees of:
- the federal government,
- banks (except caisses populaires),
- radio and television stations,
- interprovincial transport businesses,
- telecommunication businesses.
The labour standards for these people are in the Canada Labour Code, which is a federal law.
The Role of the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST)
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 receives 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.