Module 04: On the Job Success

4.7 What are Your Rights as an Employee in Ontario?

The following provides some basic information about your rights in the workplace but is not intended to replace legal advice. Consult a lawyer or employment advisor for specific legal advice pertaining to your situation.

As you embark on your career, it’s important that you become familiar with the laws in place to protect you over the course of recruitment, hiring and in the workplace. Educate yourself so that you can defend your rights, if necessary, and also ensure that you’re not infringing on the rights of others.


A man stands in the background scratching his head while a smiling man stands in the foreground holding a sign that reads “I know my rights”

When you accept a job, you’ll be asked to review and sign an employment contract which is a legal agreement entered into and signed by you and your employer, whereby you both agree to fulfill the contract terms. It may include a variety of information such as salary, employee and the employer’s responsibilities and rights, vacation time, sick time, termination etc. Your rights are also dependent on the conditions stated in your employment contract, employer benefits, union contract and employment status (casual, part-time, co-op, contract, full-time permanent). Make sure to read your contract carefully to know your rights and responsibilities.

Canadian workplaces are regulated under various laws designed to protect employers and employees. In Ontario, the employee/employer relationship and rights are governed by several statutes, including the Ontario Human Rights Code, Employment Standards Act, the Labour Relations Act,  the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act. These laws have been put in place to provide protection for workers including safe, discrimination-free workplaces, fair pay and support in case of injury.

Employment Standards Act

Each province in Canada has employment standards, laws, and labour codes that set out the minimum standards for working conditions and wages, therefore, to get accurate information, you’ll need to consult information that pertains to the province you work in. Ontario’s Employment Standards Act (ESA) states the minimum standards established by law that define and guarantee your rights as an employee in an Ontario workplace.  The statute covers areas including minimum wage, hours of work, overtime, vacation pay, public holidays, leaves of absence (pregnancy and parental leave, personal leave, medical leave), termination, and severance pay.

Employers that work in federally regulated sectors (e.g. banks, post-office, the federal government, airports) are covered under  Federal Labour Standards.

You do not have to be a Canadian citizen, permanent resident or work permit holder to be covered by the Employment Standards Act.

If you are in a unionized position, your union’s collective agreement – an agreement bargained for between the union representing employees and the employer- will outline additional rights.

The activity below includes some highlights of your rights under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act. Drag the words, sentences and paragraphs into the correct alignment.


Drag the appropriate Standard and Example to the correct Term.

For more information about your rights under the Employment Standards Act, visit the Ontario Ministry of Labour.
© Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2009 – 2015

Table 4.1 Employee Rights

Term Standard Example
Overtime Pay There are specific rules about when you are entitled to overtime pay and how much you should be paid. Jun is working as a Child and Youth Care Practitioner and his colleague, who was supposed to work the night shift, is unable to come in, so Jun covers her shift. This puts him over the 44 hours per week threshold. When he receives his pay statement, he has not been paid 1.5x for the hours over 44 hours.
Public Holidays In most cases, the employer must give you public holidays off. However, if you’re required to work due to your profession you’re entitled to public holiday pay or an alternative day off. Archil is a Registered Practical Nurse who works in the Emergency Department of a Toronto hospital. He worked on Canada Day but when he checks his payroll statement, he didn’t receive additional pay (or an alternative day off).
Vacation The employer must give you at least two weeks of vacation with pay, or equivalent compensation (4% in lieu of vacation), after every 12 months of employment. Zariya is excited to be starting her first job as a Network Technical Support Specialist. She doesn’t see anything in her contract about vacation so she asks her boss about it. Her boss tells Zariya that the company can’t afford to give her vacation or equivalent compensation because they’re just starting up. She says that if the company succeeds, she’ll be compensated next year.
Pay Equity The employer cannot pay employees of one gender a rate of pay less than the rate paid to an employee of the other gender when they are doing the same job. Malaya, a female HVAC Service Technician, is talking to one of her co-workers, John, and learns that he is making 7% more per hour than she is, even though they do the same job, started at the same time and have the same education and experience.
Leaves of absence You are entitled to take specified leaves of absence including pregnancy and parental leave, family medical leave, organ donor leave, family caregiver leave, personal emergency leave, and reservist leave. Punav and his spouse, Chara, are expecting their first child. Punav speaks with his supervisor about taking parental leave. His supervisor tells him that if he takes parental leave, he can expect to be demoted to a lower-paying position.
Termination If the employer is terminating your employment, they must give you the proper notice (usually stated in your employment contract). HR has informed Paul that he has been terminated from his position without compensation and he is to leave immediately.
Wages In addition to establishing a minimum wage, the Employment Standards Act specifies when and how you should be paid. Jabir is excited to have been offered his first job in resort management but he doesn’t think to ask how much he’ll be paid. When he gets his first paycheque, he sees that his hourly rate is below minimum wage.
Hours of Work and Breaks There are limits to how many hours you can be expected to work in a stretch and requirements for the breaks that the employer must provide. While working in a very busy customer service role, Lily’s boss regularly insists she work 12 hours straight without any time for food or breaks.

Human Rights Code

“ Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to employment without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, record of offences, marital status, family status or disability. Section 5.1, Ontario Human Rights Code

Ontario’s Human Rights Code (OHRC) provides people with equal rights and opportunities without discrimination in areas including employment, housing, services, and contracts or agreements.The excerpt above lists the grounds under which people living in Ontario are protected in regards to employment under the OHRC.

Many workplaces have Human Rights, Equity or Anti-Discrimination policies that outline the procedures to follow if you think your  rights have been violated. If you feel that your employer has behaved in a discriminatory or harassing manner and you aren’t able to get the issue resolved within the organization (e.g. via the HR department), you have the option of filing an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

The OHRC and organizational policies also define your responsibilities to co-workers. When starting a new job, you’ll be working with people from diverse backgrounds who will be different from you. Your rights as well as the rights of co-workers to experience a work environment that is free from discrimination are protected. Discriminatory actions or those that create a toxic work environment are against Ontario legislation and can put your job at risk.

Also important to be aware of is Canada’s Employment Equity Act which requires employers to work toward increased equality by ensuring representation from women, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, and members of visible minorities within their organization.

Here are some examples of discrimination at work

  1. José is looking for a job and has applied to many positions for which he is qualified, but hasn’t been called back. A friend suggests that he use the name Joe instead on his résumé. José reapplies to the same jobs with a different address and name and 2 weeks later receives a number of interviews.
  2. Jamal is asked not to bring his same-sex partner to the office party, even though other people are bringing their spouses.
  3. Sharanjit forwards a joke email to her co-workers making fun of peoples’ weight.
  4. Tasha’s boss never says anything when her co-workers make harmful comments like “That’s so gay,” or “That’s retarded.”
  5. A policy at Camilla’s workplace states that food can only be eaten while staff are on break. Camilla needs to eat regularly throughout the day to manage her diabetes.

Accommodations in the workplace

Disabilities can take many forms. A disability can be temporary, short-term or chronic, invisible (e.g. a learning disability or mental health diagnosis) or visible (e.g. physical). If you are a person with a disability you may be entitled (Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and the Ontario Human Rights Code) to accommodations that allow you to apply for a job and also, once hired, to perform your full position duties.

Accommodations are reasonable modifications that level the playing field by providing equal access to those with disabilities. Without them, you may not be able to fully perform a job. Accommodations can take many forms, such as modified work hours or a computer keyboard with large keys.

You may have difficulty determining whether you require accommodation in the workplace, particularly if this is your first job. One strategy could be to reflect on accommodations you had or would have benefited strongly from during college or university. Did you require extensions on assignments or a longer period to complete exams?  Did you experience anxiety that impeded certain tasks?

Duty to accommodate

But do employers need to agree to provide an employee with accommodations? Under the law, employers have a duty to accommodate which means they must make every reasonable effort to provide you with the support you need as a person living with a disability, so that you can complete your work and perform well on the job. Employers have a “duty to accommodate” your disability up until the point of undue hardship.

Therefore an accommodation doesn’t have to be made if your employer can prove:

  • it will cost the organization too much money
  • there’s no external funding to pay for the accommodation
  • the accommodation is likely to cause health and safety risks

An employer is not required to accommodate for the requirements of a role or qualifications needed to ensure efficient and safe completion of the task at hand.


Disclosure refers to informing an employer about your disability, mental illness or health issue. The most important factor in deciding whether or not to disclose to an employer is whether your disability interferes with your ability to perform the essential functions of the position.

But you do have the legal right to reasonable accommodations in the workplace and if you require accommodations, it’s your responsibility to inform your employer. It’s up to you to decide what works best for you, but ensure you become familiar with your rights before making a determination. You may want to meet with an employment advisor to talk more about your situation and options.

Be aware that if you disclose your disability, an employer is entitled to ask for clarification about 1) the ways that it will affect your ability to perform your job duties 2) what types of accommodation may be required and 3) medical documentation about how your disability affects your work and whether the disability will change over time.

Formulating a conversation plan with your employer

There are any number of motivations for setting up a meeting to speak to your employer about accommodations. You may have finally received a diagnosis for a condition you’d been compensating for over a long period and only now have some accommodation strategies you’d like to discuss. Or perhaps over time your disability has changed and is affecting you in new ways that impact how you optimally perform your job. Or you’re new to the job and have only recently disclosed your disability  and are meeting to discuss how to best accommodate for it.

Taking the time to prepare for conversations with your employer about the impact of your disability in a workplace setting can be empowering.  Making notes of how your disability impacts your work, along with proactively providing accommodation suggestions, can be incredibly helpful.  Practicing your disclosure statement with friends, an employment advisor or others can also help you sort out important details and build your confidence.  Being clear as to how much detail you’ll provide regarding medical diagnoses is also important to discuss ahead of time.

Preparing an accommodation plan should be a collaborative process between you and your employer.  The more you do ahead of time to reflect on which unique supports would be most beneficial, the more productive the conversation will be. Bearing in mind the limits of the duty to accommodate, you may want to research e.g. sources of funding if needed.  If your disability changes, you may need to reassess the accommodation plan with your employer.

Types of accommodations

The most appropriate accommodations are those that will benefit your individual needs. What supports you in being able to perform your work may not support a co-worker with the same disability.

There are many ways to accommodate your needs whether it’s:

  • A flexible work schedule
  • Adaptive technologies e.g. speech software
  • Accessible parking
  • Handrails, ramps, or wider doors
  • A sign language interpreter
  • Moving the workspace to an environment that’s quieter or more well lit

A helpful resource for exploring common accommodations suitable for various disabilities is available from to Job Accommodation Network’s Searchable Online Accommodation Resource

Example scenario: Helen is visually impaired and has difficulty reading standard size text. She has a right to request accommodations such as captioning, conversion of print to braille, audiotapes or enlarged print.

For further information about your rights as an employee as well as accommodation requests, be sure to consult the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Source:© Queen’s Printer for Ontario

The following video explains Helen’s employer’s responsibility to accommodate her visual impairment.

Video – Understanding the Duty to Accommodate



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Centennial College Career Success Guide Copyright © by Career Services and Cooperative Education, Centennial College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book