What are your employment rights as a foreign worker?

Julia Hornstein
Published: March 21, 2023

All Canadians have the right to be treated fairly in the workplace, free from discrimination and abuse.

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The Canada Labour Code is the federal governments legislation that sets out the labour rights and responsibilities of employers and employees within federally regulated sectors, such as banks and telecommunications companies. Most other occupations are covered under provincial and territorial laws. Every province or territory has their own labour and employment laws concerning fair pay, hours of work and working conditions.

Canada’s Employment Equity Act and the Federal Contractors Program requires employers to work to improving employment opportunities for specific groups of people in Canada. In particular, they require federally regulated businesses and organizations to provide equal opportunities to women, Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities and members of visible minorities.

Rights for foreign workers

Canadian laws protect all workers in Canada, including foreign workers. Foreign workers have the right to:

  • Be compensated for their work;
  • Have a safe workplace; and
  • Keep their passport and work permit.

On or before your first day of work, your employer must give you a copy of your employment agreement. The agreement should contain information about your occupation, wage and working conditions. You and your employer must sign this agreement, and it must be written in English or French.

In addition, your employer is required to provide you with reasonable notice before laying you off. If they do not, they must pay you termination pay, which is based on how long you have been working for that employer and depends on which province or territory you are working in.

Health and safety at work

Your employer is required to provide a safe workplace and train you to do your job safely. This includes training you to use any equipment or machinery and provide you with protective equipment, if necessary.

You cannot be forced to do any work you think is dangerous, and you cannot be fired or denied pay for refusing to work under dangerous conditions.

If you report any danger in the workplace, your employer must look into it. You have the right to refuse to work until you and your employer agree that:

  • The danger is removed, and the problem no longer exists; and
  • You have received the proper training and equipment.

Workplace free of abuse

Your employer must also make reasonable efforts to provide workers with a workplace free of abuse. This mean that your employer or anyone acting on behalf of your employer cannot physically, sexually, psychologically, or financially abuse you.

According to the Canadian government website, any behaviour that scares, controls or isolates you could be abuse. Some examples they provide include:

  • Physical harm
  • Threats or insults
  • Unwanted sexual touching
  • Controlling where you can go and who you can see
  • Stealing from you
  • Taking any or all the money you are owed
  • Taking and refusing to return your passport, work permit or any other identification
  • Forcing you to commit fraud
  • Actions or threats of demotion, disciplinary measures, or dismissal due to reporting your employer for non-compliance or complaining about your working conditions or abuse

Duty to accommodate

There are certain situations where some people must be treated differently to prevent or reduce discrimination. An employer may have to make changes to an employee’s work environment or duties to make it possible for that employee to do their job. This is the duty to accommodate and it applies to needs that are based on one of the grounds of discrimination.

Under the Canadian Human Rights Act, there are 11 grounds of discrimination:

  • Race;
  • National or ethnic origin;
  • Colour;
  • Religion;
  • Age;
  • Sex;
  • Sexual orientation;
  •  Marital status;
  • Family status;
  • Disability; and
  • A conviction for which a pardon has been granted or a record suspended.

Reporting employment issues

If you have been asked to perform dangerous work, your work conditions are unsafe or you have been injured or sick because of your work, you should contact your provincial or territorial workplace health and safety office to report the problem.

If you think you are not being properly paid, treated unfairly or your employer is not respecting your employer agreement, you should contact your provincial or territorial employment standards office.

Most provinces and territories offer workers compensation benefits, which are payments to make up for lost wages when workers are injured or sick because of their work. It is illegal for your employer to stop you from making a worker’s compensation claim.

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