Si vous parlez français
Can my employer punish me if I act on my rights?

There are laws that say your employer can't punish you for acting on your rights.

Your rights in the Employment Standards Act

Ontario's Employment Standards Act (ESA) says that your employer can't punish you or threaten to punish you for:

  • asking about your rights as a worker
  • asking your employer to respect those rights
  • making a claim to the Ministry of Labour
  • giving information to an Employment Standards Officer from the Ministry of Labour

So, for example, it's against the law for your employer to punish you for:

Your human rights

Ontario's Human Rights Code says that your employer can't punish you or threaten to punish you for:

  • asking about your human rights
  • asking your employer to respect those rights
  • applying to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario
  • refusing to do something that goes against another person's human rights

If this happens to you, you can contact the Human Rights Legal Support Centre for free legal advice and information.

The Centre helps people file human rights applications with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and, in some cases, represents people who are making claims at the Tribunal.

You can also check out the Centre's online tool Can We Help You? to see if you might be able to make a claim.

Your right to safety at work

Both the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Canada Labour Code say that your employer can't punish you because you ask them to follow safety rules.

To learn more about this, see Can I be punished for complaining about safety issues at work?

Things employers do to punish people

If you ask your employer about your rights or do something else related to your rights, your employer can't use that as a reason to:

  • fire you
  • suspend you
  • discipline you
  • transfer you to another position
  • reduce or change your hours
  • not give you a raise or other benefits
  • harass or threaten you
  • intimidate or bully you

If your employer does any of those things, and you think it's because you asked or did something else about your rights, this is called a reprisal. It's against the law.

Show all
Click to expand each step for details
Next Steps: 

Find out if Ontario's laws apply

Employment Standards Act

Ontario's Employment Standards Act (ESA) has rules that employers must follow including rules that say they can't punish you if you act on your rights as a worker.

But not all jobs are covered by the ESA. And, in some cases, only parts of the ESA apply.

Use the Ministry of Labour's online tool called Industries and Jobs with Exemptions or Special Rules to find out if your job is covered by the ESA and which parts of the ESA apply.

You can also call the Ministry's Employment Standards Information Centre at 1-800-531-5551, 416-326-7160, or 1-866-567-8893 (TTY).

If you're in a union

Talk to your shop steward or union representative about what to do. You can't make a claim under the ESA but there are other steps you can take. You have rights in your collective agreement

Human Rights Code

Most employers in Ontario must follow the Ontario Human Rights Code. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario deals with complaints against these employers.

But some industries are covered by federal laws. These are laws made by the Government of Canada and they apply throughout the country. These industries include banks, airlines, some trucking businesses, and broadcasting. The Government of Canada website has a more complete list.

Employers in these industries must follow the Canada Labour Code. The Canadian Human Rights Commission deals with human rights complaints against these employers.

You may need

Gather evidence

Keep track of any documents you have that could help you prove that your employer is punishing you.

Here are some of the documents you might need:

  • pay stubs
  • letters, emails, and text messages from your employer
  • disciplinary letters
  • your employment contract
  • notes from meetings
  • notes from talking to other workers
  • written instructions from your employer

Make notes about conversations you've had. Keep track of dates when things happen.

You might want to ask your employer about the reason for what they did. But before you talk to your employer about it, you might want to get legal advice to decide if it's a good idea and what to say.

You may need

Try to get legal advice

If you think your employer has punished you because you asked or did something else about your rights, you may want to get legal advice.

A lawyer can help by giving you advice about:

  • what your rights are
  • what you should do to protect your rights
  • whether you should take legal action against your employer and how to do this

But before you talk to a lawyer, try to collect any documents or information that might help you. There are examples in the Next Step above called "Gather evidence".

The Law Society Referral Service can give you the name of a lawyer or paralegal you can consult with for free, for up to 30 minutes.

JusticeNet is a program for Canadians with low or moderate incomes. It connects people with lawyers and paralegals who charge lower legal fees based on your income.

There are community legal clinics across Ontario that provide free legal services to people with low incomes. Some clinics help people with work-related problems. And if a clinic can't help you, they may be able to refer you to someone in your community who can.

Legal advice about human rights

If you think an employer did something that goes against your human rights, you can contact the Human Rights Legal Support Centre for free legal advice and information.

The Centre helps people file human rights applications with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and, in some cases, represents people who are making claims at the Tribunal.

You can also check out the Centre's online tool Can We Help You? to see if you might be able to make a claim.

You may need

Consider your options

It can be difficult to know which option is best for you. It's a good idea to get legal advice to help you decide.

You may be able to make a claim to the Ministry of Labour if you were punished because you stood up for rights that Ontario's Employment Standards Act gives workers.

You may be able to make a human rights claim at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario if your employer punished you for a reason that goes against your human rights.

If the Ministry or the Tribunal decides that your employer broke the law, they can order that the employer:

  • pay you money
  • give you a job
  • change their practices so they follow the law

You can ask for money to cover costs that you had or to replace money that you were forced to spend because of what the employer did. You can also ask for money because of how the employer's actions affected you.

When an employer does not respect your rights, this can hurt you. The Ministry or the Tribunal can order an employer to pay you money for the hurt that they caused you. You don't have to show that what they did cost you money.

If you were fired, you might also be able to sue your employer in court.

You may need
Reviewed: 
September, 2015