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Have your working conditions changed?

Companies in Québec have had to adapt to the special situation we have had to deal with in recent months. Our lives and workplaces have been turned upside down and this may have resulted in significant changes for employers and workers alike.

Do the changes made in the company where you work still comply with labour standards?

As shown in the cases below, it might be a good idea to check because even in an extraordinary situation, the Act respecting labour standards still applies.

A change in work schedule

Émilie is the manager of a big-box store. Since the fall, she has had to reduce the work schedule from 40 hours a week to 20 hours a week for 10 of her workers. Émilie is wondering if she has the right to change the work schedule like this.

Answer

Yes, the employer decides the working hours. This is part of what is called the right to manage.

In addition, the exceptional situation created by the COVID‑19 pandemic may cause employers to change work schedules, for example, to take into account the number of customers and the volume of business and so avoid layoffs.

In this case, Émilie must still comply with labour standards, that is, any changes to the schedule must be justifiable and fair. Reducing work hours too much could be interpreted by her staff as reprisals or constructive dismissal.

Émilie must act transparently toward her staff and inform them of any changes made in the company. Collaboration and transparency will help maintain a good work climate.

To find out more, go to the Work schedule page.

A change in duties

Charles is a receptionist and his boss recently asked him to add document filing and agenda coordination to his regular duties. Charles is wondering if his job description can be changed like this.

Answer

An employer may have to change a person's job description even after they are hired.

The current economic context can also cause employers to change their staff's duties in order to adapt them to business needs. In this case, the employer may do so, but must act transparently toward their staff and inform them of any changes.

To find out more, see our Questions and answers – COVID‑19 page.

Termination of employment

Marco has just been fired by the owner of the garage where he has worked for a few years. The owner explained that they have been experiencing financial difficulties since the COVID‑19 pandemic hit. Marco understands the decision, since he is the last person hired, but is wondering if he will receive a sum of money.

Answer

At the time of dismissal, the employer must make sure Marco is given all the sums he is due: wages, overtime pay, vacation indemnity (4% or 6%), etc.

In addition, they must give Marco a written notice of termination of employment in accordance with the notice period provided for by law.

However, the Act provides that the employer is not required to provide written notice (or pay an indemnity if they do not provide written notice) if the worker has been dismissed as a result of force majeure.

The pandemic Québec is dealing with now could be considered a case of force majeure in some situations.

For more details, go to the Termination of employment page and the questions and answers related to COVID-19.

Working on a statutory holiday

When her manager asked for a volunteer to do inventory at the store during the Easter break, Salma immediately raised her hand. She would like to know if she will be entitled to an additional amount on her next pay or compensatory leave, since she will have worked on a statutory holiday.

Answer

Since she will have worked on a statutory holiday, Salma will be entitled, in addition to her regular wages, to an indemnity or paid leave, at her employer's option.

If her employer grants her paid leave, Salma must take it in the three weeks before or after the statutory holiday (an exception applies for the National Holiday).

To find out more, go to the Statutory holidays page.

Vacation

Rachel is a housekeeping attendant at a hotel. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, her employer is anticipating a decrease in activities in the coming months. Therefore, they asked her to take her two weeks of annual vacation right now. Rachel would have preferred to wait and take her vacation at another time. Can her employer decide her vacation dates?

Answer

Yes, the employer has the right to set the vacation dates. This is part of what is called the right to manage.

However, they must inform their staff at least 4 weeks in advance and may not replace the vacation with an indemnity unless a collective agreement or decree provides otherwise.

For more information, go to the Annual vacation page.

Psychological or sexual harassment

Luís got his first job at a communications agency and is teleworking at the moment. One of his colleagues regularly raises her voice and accuses him of making mistakes during video meetings in front of other people. She even calls him incompetent. This has been happening every week since he started working. Luís feels terrible and is wondering if this situation could be considered harassment.

Answer

Yes. Psychological or sexual harassment is defined in the Act respecting labour standards as repeated and hostile conduct, verbal comments or gestures that affect an employee’s dignity or psychological or physical integrity and make the work environment harmful.

Employers in Québec are required to provide a harassment-free workplace and have a psychological or sexual harassment prevention policy in their company. Consult the policy to find out the procedure to follow when dealing with a situation of harassment.

To find out more, go to the Psychological or sexual harassment page.