Employment Standards for Wages

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The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on a wide variety of legal issues in the Province of Alberta.  This service is provided by Calgary Legal Guidance funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.

The employment relationships of most Alberta employers and their employees are regulated by statute.  Federal works or undertakings, like airlines or chartered banks, fall under Federal jurisdiction.  The rights and responsibilities of employers and employees of a Federal work or undertaking are defined by the Canada Labour Code.

However, most Alberta workplaces fall under provincial jurisdiction, with rights and responsibilities defined by the Alberta Employment Standards Code.  This topic will discuss the minimum standards of the Alberta Employment Standards Code and its regulations.

As of September 1, 2012, the minimum hourly wage in Alberta is $9.75 per hour.  The minimum hourly wage for servers of liquor is $9.05.  There is no separate wage for students.  A domestic employee who lives in his or her employer’s home must be paid at least $1,854 per month.  Some salespersons, land agents and other professionals, who are defined in the Regulations and are exempted from recording daily hours of work, are entitled to a minimum wage of $389 per week.  If you receive a bonus, then the bonus increases the hourly rate for the period of employment it was received.  Where you work on a commission or other incentive-based pay, your employer must calculate your wages at least once every pay period to make sure that your wages are not less than the amount you would have made pursuant to the minimum hourly wage.

To ensure that you are receiving the minimum pay, perform the following calculation:

  • Take the number of hours you worked in a particular pay period and multiply the hours by the minimum wage.  If your gross pay does not meet this calculation, then your employer is required to make up the difference.  You are still entitled to overtime if applicable.

Every employee should receive a statement of earnings and deductions for each pay period.  Check the accuracy of each statement as soon as you receive it.  You must be paid at least once per month although some employees are paid by the week or twice monthly.  You must receive your pay within 10 days of the end of the pay period.

The maximum number of regular hours you can work in most employment relationships is 8 hours per day or 44 hours per week.  For hours worked above these thresholds, you must be paid overtime at the rate of 1.5 times your regular pay.  For example, if you are paid $12.00 per hour, your overtime rate would be $12.00 multiplied by 1.5 which equals $18.00 per hour.

Sometimes your employer may offer you time off instead of being paid overtime.  If you enter into this type of agreement – called an overtime agreement — overtime hours may be banked and taken as time off with regular pay instead of being paid as overtime at the premium rate.  For every hour of overtime worked, one hour must be banked.  The overtime agreement must be in writing and you should keep a copy for your own records.  You must take the overtime hours within 3 months of the pay period in which the overtime was earned.  If you do not take the time off in lieu of overtime within the 3 month period, then the banked overtime hours must be paid out at the rate of 1.5 times.

There are some exceptions to the rule that overtime is paid for hours beyond 8 per day or 44 per week.  Some occupations permit more regular working hours in a day.   For example, in the highway and railway construction trade there is a 10 hour working day before overtime must be paid.  In the oil well servicing trade, overtime is paid after 12 hours in a day.  Check with Employment Standards to see when you are entitled to overtime in your type of employment.

There are also a minimum number of hours for which you must be paid within a working day.  The minimum hours to be paid will depend upon your employment.  In most employment relationships, the minimum hours are a 3-hour shift.  Even if you do not work the entire 3 hours you must be paid for 3 hours at minimum wage.  There is a 2 hour minimum for which you must be paid if you are a school bus driver, home care employee, or a part-time employee in certain non-profit recreation or athletic programs.  You must be paid for 2 hours at minimum wage even if you do not work the full 2 hours.  The 2-hour minimum also applies to students aged 12, 13 and 14 years who work on a school day.  In order to receive the 2 or 3 hour minimum pay, you must be available for work during the minimum 2 or 3 hour period, whichever applies, even if you are not required to work the full minimum hours.

After a certain length of employment, you are entitled to vacation with pay.  After 1 year of working with the same employer, you are entitled to 2 weeks with pay annually.  After 5 years, you are entitled to 3 weeks with pay annually.  The vacation must be taken within 12 months of earning the vacation time.  Where you are paid monthly, you would receive your regular pay when you take your vacation.  Where you are paid other than on a monthly basis and your vacation time is paid on your cheque, you would not be paid when you take your vacation because you have already received vacation pay on each cheque. Your vacation time is paid at 4% of the wages earned for the first four years of employment, and at 6% in the fifth and subsequent years of employment.

The following days are general holidays in Alberta: New Year’s Day, Alberta Family Day, Good Friday, Victoria Day, Canada Day, Labour Day, Thanksgiving Day, Remembrance Day and Christmas Day.  Where you have worked for your employer on at least 30 working days in the 12 months before a holiday, you will be eligible for general holiday pay.  You are not entitled to general holiday pay if you were scheduled or required to work on that day but you did not.  Also, you are not entitled to general holiday pay if you are absent, without consent of your employer, on either your last regular working day preceding or first regular working day following the holiday.

How much an eligible employee is paid for general holiday pay depends on whether the holiday falls on a normal working day for the employee and also whether the employee actually works on the holiday.  Some professions and occupations are exempted from the rules regarding general holidays and general holiday pay.  Special general holiday pay rules apply to construction workers and employees paid by commission or other incentive pay plans.

You must be notified of any reduction in your earnings before the beginning of the pay period in which the reduction will take effect.  Deductions will be taken for income tax, the Canada Pension Plan and employment insurance by your employer as required by law.  You may also have deductions for garnishments resulting from a Court Order.  However, all other deductions not permitted by law must be authorized in writing by you before they are taken from your pay cheque.  This includes deductions for pension plans, benefit plans and any expenses payable to the company or for the use of company credit cards.

Deductions cannot be taken from your pay cheque for certain losses to your employer.  For example, employers cannot deduct from your pay for faulty workmanship.  Money cannot be deducted from your pay for cash shortages or loss of property if more than 1 person has access to the cash or property.  The accidental breakage of an article that belongs to the employer cannot be deducted from your pay.  A waitress cannot be deducted wages for an unpaid bill when a customer leaves without paying.

Some deductions can be made where your employer provides your meals and living quarters. However, if you make minimum wage, the deduction for meals or lodging cannot reduce the minimum wage by more than $3.20 per meal consumed and $4.22 per day for lodging.

Your employer can deduct money from your wages for supplying, repairing or cleaning mandatory uniforms or work clothing only if:

  • the deduction does not reduce your wages below the minimum wage, and
  • your employer does not deduct more than the actual cost of the uniform or work clothing.

Employees must be provided notice of the hours they are expected to work.  An employer may provide notice of the hours its employees are expected to work by posting them in a place where they can be seen by the employees or by any other reasonable method.  If you are a shift worker, you must not be required to change from one shift to another without at least 24 hours written notice and at least 8 hours rest between shifts.

If you work split shifts, your total work day must be confined within a period of 12 consecutive hours.  For example, a waitress who works a lunch shift from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. shall not be required to work a dinner shift extending past 11:00 p.m.

Except in limited circumstances, you are entitled to a 30 minute rest period for each shift exceeding 5 consecutive hours.  The rest period may be provided as paid or unpaid time at the employer’s discretion; however, if the employer places restrictions on an employee’s activities during a break, requires the employee to be available for work or prohibits the employee from leaving the work premises, the break must be paid.

Some occupations are exempt from some or all of the requirements respecting hours of work and rest periods such as managers, supervisors, those employed in a confidential capacity, farm workers, professionals, certain types of salespersons, licensed land agents, extras in a film or video production, residential and homecare caregivers, domestic employees, and counselors or instructors at an educational or recreational camp that is operated on a charitable or not-for-profit basis for children, persons with disabilities, or religious purposes.

An individual employment contract or collective agreement must meet the minimum requirements of the Employment Standards Code.  Employers and employees cannot contract out of the Code.  Some employers and employees enter into written employment contracts giving greater benefits than are guaranteed by the Employment Standards Code.  Similarly, in a unionized workplace the employer and union enter into a collective agreement.  The terms of these contracts govern the employment relationship and where greater benefits are agreed upon, Employment Standards may enforce those greater benefits.

For more information, call Employment Standards using the province-wide toll-free number 1-877-427-3731.