Employment Law

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An Introduction to Employment Law

Employment law deals with the relationship between employers and their employees.  Employment law includes statutes, workplace contracts or policies, and common law (court cases).

The Canada Labour Code and the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code set minimum standards for employment, such as hours of work, minimum wage, overtime pay, vacation and holiday pay, severance pay and employment of youth. They also provide a way for employees to recover wages owed and to make complaints about employment practices. These federal and provincial labour codes apply to full-time, part-time, and casual employees.

The federal government’s Labour Program, Employment and Social Development Canada, enforces the Canada Labour Code. Nova Scotia’s Labour Standards Division, Department of Labour and Advanced Education, enforces the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code.

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Act and Canadian Human Rights Act provide protection against job-related discrimination. They are enforced by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Commission respectively.

There are also laws that set out rules for health and safety in the workplace.  Contact Nova Scotia Occupational Health and Safety for more information, or call 1-800 952-2687 or 902-424-5400.

Your employment contract or collective agreement may provide additional terms or benefits, and your employer may have a personnel policy that deals with other terms of employment.

Finally, the ‘common law’ applies to all non-unionized employees and, in some cases, may provide greater protection than the statutory labour codes. ‘Common law’, also called case law, includes rules made by judges before there were statutes, and court rulings by judges about what the statutes mean.

What employers do federal and provincial employment laws cover?

Provincial laws such as the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code and the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act regulate most businesses and service providers in Nova Scotia.

Federal laws, such as the Canada Labour Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act, cover federally regulated employers such as banks, inter-provincial trucking and rail transport, airlines, broadcasting and Crown corporations.

Does Nova Scotia's Labour Standards Code (LSC) apply to all workers?

No. For example,

  • The LSC does not apply to employees in federally regulated workplaces
  • The LSC does not apply to domestic workers who work less than 24 hours per week or work looking after a family member
  • The LSC does not apply to independent contractors. It is not always easy to decide if you are an independent contractor. Nova Scotia Labour Standards has information that may help you to determine whether you are an independent contractor. If you are in doubt, contact a lawyer or the Labour Standards Division
  • Only some parts of the LSC apply to unionized workers, and to managers and professionals such as architects, doctors, dentists, lawyers, and engineers. Unionized employees are mainly governed by their collective agreement, while managers and professionals are mainly governed by professional associations and industry-specific legislation
  • There are many other types of work where only some of the LSC’s provisions apply, including, but not limited to, farm and summer camp workers, employees on fishing boats and people participating in government training programs.

 If you are not sure which laws apply to your work, call the Labour Standards Division of the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education, or the federal Labour Program, Employment and Social Development Canada, or contact a lawyer.

If you are a unionized employee, contact your union for information about your collective agreement and labour law.

How do I contact Nova Scotia Labour Standards?

Web:  www.gov.ns.ca/lae/employmentrights/

Phone: 1 888 315-0110 (toll free) or (902) 424-4311 (Halifax)

How do I contact Canada's federal Labour Program?

Web:  www.labour.gc.ca

Phone:  1-800-641-4049

How do I contact Nova Scotia Occupational Health and Safety?

Web:  www.gov.ns.ca/lae/healthandsafety/

Phone: 1-800-952-2687 or (902) 424-5400

Updated May 2017

Getting Paid

The information on this page is about Nova Scotia's Labour Standards Code. For information about federal law under the Canada Labour Code, contact the federal Labour Program.

Most employment laws are made by the federal and provincial governments. Which laws protect you depends on whether your employer is regulated by the provincial government or by the federal government.

Federally regulated employers include banks, inter-provincial transportation and communications, and federal crown corporations. Their employees are protected by federal laws such as the Canada Labour Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Most Nova Scotia employers are regulated by provincial laws such as the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code and the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act.

If you are unsure about which level of government regulates your employer, call the Labour Standards Division of the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education.

What follows are minimum protections only. You may have an agreement with your employer which provides wages and benefits that are more than the minimums. In that case, you are entitled to the amounts or terms agreed to.

The information below does not replace advice from a lawyer. If you have a legal problem you should talk with a lawyer.  

What is the general minimum wage in Nova Scotia?

As of April 1, 2017, employers in Nova Scotia must pay experienced workers at least $10.85 an hour and inexperienced workers at least $10.35 an hour.  Employees can be paid the inexperienced rate only if they have worked for the employer for less than three months and have less than three months total experience with the kind of work they have been hired to do. An experienced worker is one who has three months' or more experience with the same employer or in the kind of work they have been hired to do. The minimum wage applies to a work week of 48 hours or less.

Some industries have different minimum wage rules, or are exempt from having to pay a minimum wage.

Contact Nova Scotia's Labour Standards Division for more information.

Must male and female workers be paid the same?

Yes. Under the Labour Standards Code men and women are entitled to the same pay for substantially the same type of work within a given workplace. However, the Labour Standards Code says that employees may receive different wages for similar jobs if:

  • a seniority or merit pay system is set up
  • wages are paid based on quantity or quality of production, or
  • a factor other than sex distinguishes one employee from another doing the same or substantially the same work.

Contact the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission if you have questions about pay equity.

When must an employee be paid?

Your employer must pay you in cash, by cheque, money order, email transfer or by direct deposit at least twice a month and within five working days after the end of each pay period. Exceptions are if payments are made according to an existing practice in your workplace (in place since before February 1 1973) such as weekly or monthly payments, or if there is a collective agreement that has a different pay schedule, or an order of the Director of Labour Standards.

When you are paid your employer must give you a written statement (pay stub) detailing

  • the pay period
  • number of hours the pay is for
  • pay rate
  • deductions from pay, and
  • actual amount paid.

Am I entitled to pay increases at certain intervals?

The Labour Standards Code only has requirements about a minimum wage. It is up to your employer to decide whether there will be pay increases.

Am I entitled to a paid vacation?

You are entitled to two weeks vacation after working 12 months for an employer, and to at least three weeks vacation if you have been working for the same employer for longer than 8 years.

Vacation pay is calculated at 4% of gross wages or 6% of gross wages for employees who have worked for the same employer for longer than 8 years. Gross wages means wages before deductions for tax, CPP, etc.

If you and your employer agree, you may break up your vacation into two or more parts, as long as the required minimum is met and you get at least one week of unbroken vacation.

Employees in certain jobs, such as real estate agents, car salespeople, or people who work on fishing boats, are not covered by the Labour Standards Code rules about vacations and vacation pay. Contact Nova Scotia's Labour Standards Division for more information.

What happens to my vacation pay if I leave my job?

You are still entitled to the vacation pay. Your employer must pay you your earned vacation pay within 10 business days after your employment ends.

Do I have to take vacation time?

If you work full time you must take vacation time.

If you work less than 90% of regular working hours during a continuous 12 month period, then you may choose not to take vacation, and just get your vacation pay instead. You must tell your employer in writing that you will not take vacation. Your employer must give you your vacation pay within one month after the 12 month period ends.

Can my employer make deductions from my pay?

Your employer can deduct from your pay if the deductions are allowed or required by:

  • statute
  • court order
  • written agreement between you and your employer.

Your employer can make the following deductions, even if the deductions take your pay below minimum wage:

  • statutory deductions such as income tax, Employment Insurance (EI) premiums, and Canada Pension Plan (CPP) contributions
  • court ordered deductions, such as if your employer is required by the Maintenance Enforcement Program to garnish your pay because you are behind in child support payments
  • deductions for an employee benefit or pension plan
  • deductions for board and/or lodging provided by the employer, subject to maximum amounts set out in the Minimum Wage Order (General)
  • deductions to recover pay advances or overpayments
  • deductions for employee purchases from the employer's business on account, if there is a clear employer/employee agreement to do this
  • deductions for dry-cleaning wool or other heavy material uniforms.

Some deductions cannot be made without your agreement, and are not allowed if they take your pay below minimum wage. Unless you have agreed, your employer cannot deduct money from your wages to pay for damage you may have caused to the employer's property or goods, debts you owe your employer, losses incurred by you or goods your employer accuses you of stealing. For example, if a customer leaves without paying, your employer can only deduct from your pay to recover that loss if

1) the employer can show that it was your fault; and
2) you agree in writing to the deduction; and
3) the deduction does not take your gross (before tax) pay below minimum wage.


You should contact Labour Standards if your employer makes a deduction for losses like these without your agreement, or if you are not sure whether a deduction is lawful.

When you are paid your employer must give you a written statement (pay stub) detailing deductions from your pay, as well as the pay period, number of hours the pay is for, pay rate and actual amount paid.

Contact Nova Scotia Labour Standards for more information about pay deductions.

How much is overtime pay?

For most jobs overtime pay is 1.5 times the employee's regular wage. An employee must work at least 48 hours in one week before overtime rules apply. For example, an employee who worked 50 hours in one week would be paid her regular wage for 48 of those hours, and overtime for the other two hours.

However, overtime rules are not the same for all workers. Some jobs, such as car and real estate sales and most farm work, are not covered by overtime rules. Other jobs, such as construction or landscaping, have special overtime rules. Contact Nova Scotia Labour Standards for more information about specific overtime rules.

What holidays will I get?

Paid holidays

Under Nova Scotia's Labour Standards Code, you are entitled to 6 paid holidays:

  • New Year's Day
  • Nova Scotia Heritage Day
  • Good Friday
  • Canada Day
  • Labour Day, and
  • Christmas Day.

You should receive your regular rate of pay for each of these days, as long as you:

1. were paid or were entitled to receive pay for at least 15 days of the month before the general holiday; and
2. work on your scheduled work day immediately before and after the holiday, unless your employer tells you not to come to work on either of those days. These rules apply to both full-time and part-time employees.
 
There are special holiday pay rules for continuing operations, such as telephone or other communication services, or services in which employees normally work on Sundays or paid holidays.

However, some workers are not entitled to holiday pay unless it is in their employment contract. These include

  • most farm workers
  • real estate and car salespeople
  • domestic workers who work for 24 hours or less per week or work looking after a family member
  • commissioned salespeople who make sales at locations other than an employer's place of business, except those on an established route
  • anyone who works on a fishing boat
  • anyone who works in a private home providing domestic service to an immediate family member.

Some days are commonly considered to be holidays, but are not paid statutory holidays under the Labour Standards Code. These days include: Easter Monday, Victoria Day, Natal Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Boxing Day. Your employer may choose to pay you for these days.

Contact Labour Standards for more information about holidays.

Other days off and holidays:


Remembrance Day

Nova Scotia's Remembrance Day Act requires many businesses to close on Remembrance Day (11 November). Some workplaces are allowed to open on Remembrance Day, including hospitals, child care facilities, service stations and drug stores that are not in a department store. Workplaces that do open are required to stop work for 3 minutes starting at 1 minute to 11 a.m. on November 11.

If you do not work on Remembrance Day you are not entitled to get paid for the day, although your employer may nevertheless decide to pay you for that day.

In most cases if you are required to work on Remembrance Day you are entitled to a paid holiday either on the working day immediately following your vacation, or any other day you and your employer agree upon. There are a few exceptions. Contact Nova Scotia Labour Standards for more information about holiday pay for Remembrance Day.

Designated Retail Closing Days (Retail Business Designated Day Closing Act)

There are 9 designated retail closing days in Nova Scotia:

  • New Year's Day
  • Nova Scotia Heritage Day
  • Good Friday
  • Easter Sunday
  • Canada Day
  • Labour Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Christmas Day, and
  • Boxing Day.

These are days when certain retail businesses must close. Some employees have the right to refuse to work on designated closing days and Sundays. Contact Labour Standards for more information about the right to refuse to work on designated closing days and Sundays.

Where can I get more information?

Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education
Labour Standards Division
Halifax: (902) 424- 4311
Toll free: 1-888-315-0110
Website: novascotia.ca/lae/employmentrights/

Employment and Social Development Canada Labour Program (federally regulated workplaces)
Halifax 902-426-4995
Sydney 902-564-7130
Toll free: 1-800-641-4049
Website: labour.gc.ca

 

 

Updated May 2017

Leaves of absence and breaks

Nova Scotia Labour Standards provides employment rights information & deals with Labour Standards Code complaints.

Contact NS Labour Standards:
1-888-315-0110
902-424-4311
novascotia.ca/lae/employmentrights/

This page only talks about leaves under Nova Scotia's Labour Standards Code

All leaves under the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code are unpaid. However, your employment contract, benefits plan, or collective agreement may provide added benefits, and Employment Insurance benefits may also be available for some leaves.

This page gives legal information only, not legal advice.  For more information, contact Nova Scotia Labour Standards at 1-888-315-0110 or 902-424-4311, or online at
novascotia.ca/lae/employmentrights/.
Contact a lawyer if you need legal advice.

Pregnancy & Parental leave

Am I entitled to time off if I'm pregnant?

If you are pregnant and have worked for your employer for at least one year, you are entitled to an unpaid pregnancy leave of up to 17 weeks. If your employer asks, you must provide your employer with a doctor's certificate confirming your pregnancy. You must give your employer 4 weeks' notice of the date you will start pregnancy leave and the date you will return to work if you are returning early. If you cannot give 4 weeks' notice for medical reasons or because the baby comes early, then you need to give your employer as much notice as possible.

You can start pregnancy leave up to 16 weeks before your due date. You must take at least one week off after the actual delivery date. Subject to Nova Scotia human rights law (Human Rights Act), if your pregnancy makes you unable to perform your regular job duties, your employer can require you to take an unpaid leave of absence.

Am I entitled to time off if my spouse or partner is having a baby?

Either parent may take parental leave. If you have worked for your employer for at least one year, and you are the parent of a newborn or newly adopted child, then you are entitled to a parental leave of absence of up to 52 weeks.

You must take any parental leave within 52 weeks of the child's birth or arrival in your home, and must give your employer 4 weeks' notice of the date when you will begin the leave, and the date you will return to work, if you are returning early.

 A woman who took pregnancy leave may also take parental leave. In that case, parental leave starts immediately at the end of the pregnancy leave, without a break between the two leaves.  The pregnancy and parental leaves combined cannot total more than 52 weeks (maximum 17 weeks pregnancy leave + 35 weeks parental leave).

Are adoptive parents entitled to parental leave?

Yes, parents of a newly adopted child are entitled to up to 52 weeks of unpaid parental leave. You must take any parental leave within 52 weeks of the child's arrival in your home, and give your employer 4 weeks' notice of the dates when you will start and end your leave, or give notice as soon as possible if the adoption placement happens sooner than expected.

Does my employer have to pay my wages if I take pregnancy and/or parental leave?

No. Both pregnancy and parental leaves are unpaid leaves from work under the Labour Standards Code. However, Employment Insurance maternity and/or parental benefits (canada.ca/en/services/benefits/ei/ei-maternity-parental.html) may be available to those who take these leaves, and your employment contract may also provide pregnancy and/or parental leave benefits.

Can my employer end my employment while I am on pregnancy/parental leave?

When you return to work after pregnancy and/or parental leave, you must be allowed to return to the same position or, if that position is no longer available, to a comparable one with no loss of seniority or benefits. If your employer does not allow you to return from pregnancy/parental leave, you may be able to make a complaint.  Contact the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission and Nova Scotia Labour Standards for more information.

More information: NS Labour Standards parental and pregnancy leave page.

Compassionate care leave

Compassionate care leave

Compassionate care leave is an unpaid leave of up to 28 weeks, which may be taken if you have worked for your employer for at least three months and you have to take care of or give support to a seriously ill family member who has a significant chance of dying within 26 weeks.  You employer may ask for a medical certificate from a medical doctor stating that the family member is at serious risk of dying within 26 weeks.

Compassionate care leave may be granted to provide care or support for:

  • your spouse (including common-law partner, if you have lived together for 1 year or more)
  • your or your spouse's parent, step-parent or foster parent
  • your or your spouse's child or step-child or your current or former foster child
  • your brother, step-brother, sister, or step-sister
  • your or your spouse's grandparent or step-grandparent
  • your or your spouse's grandchild or step-grandchild
  • your brother-in-law, step-brother-in-law, sister-in-law or step-sister-in-law of the employee
  • your or your spouse's son-in-law or daughter-in-law
  • your or your spouse's uncle or aunt
  • your or your spouse's nephew or niece
  • the spouse of the employee's current or former foster child, current or former guardian, grandchild, uncle, aunt, nephew or niece
  • your current or former guardian
  • your or your spouse's current or former ward
  • someone considered to be like a close relative, whether or not related.

Contact Nova Scotia Labour Standards if you are not sure whether you are eligible to take compassionate care leave for a particular family member or person you consider to be like a close relative.

How much compassionate care leave can I get?

You can take up to 28 weeks of leave, which may be divided into periods of at least one week each.  The leave must be taken within a 52 week time period, and can be broken up, as long as each period is at least one week.  You need to give your employer as much notice as possible when taking compassionate care leave.

Am I entitled to be paid while on compassionate care leave?

Compassionate care leave is unpaid. However, you may qualify for up to 26 weeks of compassionate care Employment Insurance benefits under the federal Employment Insurance program - canada.ca/en/services/benefits/ei/ei-compassionate.html. Your employment contract may also provide compassionate care leave benefits.

More information: NS Labour Standards compassionate care leave page.

Critically ill child care leave

Am I entitled to time off if my child is critically ill?

If you are a parent and you have worked for your employer for at least 3 months, you are entitled to an unpaid leave of up to 37 weeks to provide care or support to your critically ill child. Your child must be under 18.  A parent includes:

  • the critically ill child's parent
  • the spouse or common-law partner of a parent of a critically ill child
  • a person the critically ill child is living with for the purposes of adoption
  • the critically ill child's guardian or foster parent
  • a person who has care of a child under Nova Scotia's Children and Family Services Act.

Contact Labour Standards if you are not sure whether you would be eligible for this leave.

You must provide a doctor's certificate indicating that your child's life is at risk due to illness or injury, and the length of the leave. You must give your employer as much notice of the leave as possible.  Notice should be in writing.  You must take the leave in periods of at least 1 week, within a 52 week time frame. When you return to work you must be allowed to return to the same position or a comparable one with no loss of seniority or benefits. If your employer does not allow you to return to your job after this leave, you may be able to make a complaint. Contact Nova Scotia Labour Standards for more information.

This provincial leave is unpaid, but income support may be available through the federal Employment Insurance benefits for parents of critically ill children program.  If you are eligible for federal Employment Insurance benefits to care for a critically ill child, you may get up to 35 weeks of benefits within a 52 week time period.

More information: NS Labour Standards critically ill child care leave page.

Crime-related death or disappearance leave

Am I entitled to time off if my child dies or disappears due to a crime?

If you are a parent and you have worked for your employer for at least 3 months, you are entitled to an unpaid leave of up to 52 weeks if your child (under 18) disappears as a result of a probable crime, or up to 104 weeks if your child has died as a result of a probable crime. The leave must be taken continuously – it can’t be broken up into shorter periods. An employee can’t get the leave if they have been charged with the crime which resulted in the child’s death or disappearance.

When you return to work you must be allowed to return to the same position or a comparable one with no loss of seniority or benefits. If your employer does not allow you to return to your job after this leave, you may be able to make a complaint. Contact Nova Scotia Labour Standards for more information.

This leave is unpaid, but income support may be available to through the federal Parents of Murdered or Missing Children grant - contact Service Canada for information.

More information: NS Labour Standards crime related child death or disappearance leave page.

Sick leave

Sick leave

Under the Labour Standards Code you are entitled to up to three unpaid sick days each year, in order to care for a sick family member or to go to medical or dental appointments. Your employer may provide additional sick benefits, and you may also be eligible for up to 15 weeks' of federal Employment Insurance sickness benefits. Contact Employment Insurance (canada.ca/en/services/benefits/ei/ei-sickness.html) for more information.

Emergency leave

Emergency leave

Unpaid emergency leave is available under the Labour Standards Code if:

  • A government agency has declared a public emergency, and you cannot work as a result, or;
  • A medical officer (under the Health Protection Act) has ordered you to stay home for example, because you have a contagious disease; or
  • You must stay off work to care for a family member who is in one of the above situations, and you are the only person who can reasonably care for your family member. 'Family member' is defined in the same way as it is for compassionate care leave (see above).

Unpaid emergency leave is for public emergencies, such as a weather disaster or public health crisis, not personal emergencies such as a family illness. You must give your employer as much notice as possible that you are taking emergency leave, and your employer may request reasonable evidence that you are entitled to emergency leave. Emergency leave lasts as long as the emergency continues and prevents you from working.

More information: NS Labour Standards Emergency Leave page.

Court leave

Am I entitled to leave if I have to go to court?

Yes. You can take an unpaid court leave if you must serve on a jury or appear as a witness. You must give your employer as much notice as you reasonably can if you have to go to court.

Bereavement leave

Am I entitled to leave if a family member dies?

Yes. You may take up to five consecutive working days' leave on the death of your:

  • spouse (married or common-law)
  • parent
  • guardian
  • child, or a child in your care
  • grandparent
  • grandchild
  • sister or brother
  • mother or father-in-law
  • son or daughter-in-law
  • brother or sister-in-law.

Bereavement leave is unpaid. You must give your employer as much notice as possible that you are taking bereavement leave.

Am I entitled to leave if I am a reservist?

Deployment leave: Reservists who are on, or who are preparing for active duty, can take an unpaid leave from your civilian work if you have worked for your employer for at least one year. The leave cannot be longer than 18 months in a 3-year period, and there must be at least a 1 year break between reservist leaves. You must return to work within four weeks of the end of your service period. You must give your employer 90 days notice before taking deployment leave. If it is an emergency, you must give as much notice as you reasonably can.

Training leave: Reservists are also entitled to up to 20 days unpaid training leave per year, giving the employer at least 4 weeks' notice before the leave, or as much notice as possible if it is an emergency.

More information: NS Labour Standards Leaves from work page.

Am I entitled to leave to attend my citizenship ceremony?

Yes.  You may take up to one (1) day of unpaid leave to attend your citizenship ceremony, on the day of the ceremony.  You must give your employer fourteen (14) days' notice, or as much notice as you reasonably can, of the date of your citizenship ceremony, and how long you will be away from work.  Your employer may require proof of the date of your citizenship ceremony.

More information: NS Labour Standards Citizenship Ceremony leave page.

Maintaining a workplace benefit plan while on leave

During pregnancy, parental, compassionate care, critically ill child, crime related child death or disappearance, reservists', citizenship ceremony and emergency leaves your employer must give you the option to keep up any benefit plan you belong to. This would be at your own expense, unless your employer agrees otherwise. When you return from any of these leaves, your employer must accept you back into the same or a comparable position with no loss of benefits or seniority. There are a few exceptions. Contact Labour Standards for more information.

Am I entitled to a break during work?

Under the Labour Standards Code you must get an unbroken break of at least 30 minutes after every 5 hours of work. In addition, you have a right to take a break if you need one for medical reasons.  You may also have a right to extra breaks if you need accomodations under the Human Rights Act.  Contact Nova Scotia's Human Rights Commission for information about workplace accomodations.

However, an employer does not need to give a break if:

  • there is an accident
  • urgent work must be done
  • there are unforeseeable or unpreventable circumstances
  • it is unreasonable to take a meal break.

Your employer does not have to pay you for breaks, unless your employer requires you to be available for work during breaks. 

Some employees are not covered by these rules, such as unionized employees.

More information: NS Labour Standards Breaks & Rest Periods page.

Where can I get more information?

Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education (provincially regulated workplaces)
Labour Standards Division
Halifax: (902) 424-4311
Toll free: 1-888-315-0110
Website: novascotia.ca/lae/employmentrights/

Employment Insurance - Service Canada
Toll free: 1-800-206-7218
Website: canada.ca/en/services/benefits/ei.html

Employment and Social Development Canada Labour Program (federally regulated workplaces)
Halifax: 902-426-4995
Sydney: 902-564-7130
Toll free: 1-800-641-4049
Website: labour.gc.ca


Reviewed May 2017

Losing Your Job

This information is about your rights if you lose your job. Some reasons why you might lose your job are:

  • lack of work
  • job cuts
  • business failure
  • your job performance.

Whatever the reason, the law provides some basic protections and they are outlined below.

Laws which protect you:

Statutes

A statute (also called an Act) is a written law passed by the federal parliament or a provincial legislature.

The Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code protects most employees in Nova Scotia. It is enforced by the Labour Standards Division of the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education.

The Canada Labour Code protects employees in federally regulated industries such as banks and telephone companies. It is enforced by the Labour Program of Employment and Social Development Canada.

The Nova Scotia and Canadian Human Rights Acts provide protection against job-related discrimination. They are enforced by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

Common law

The common law applies to all non-unionized employees and, in some cases, may provide greater protection than the labour codes. “Common law” (also called case law) is based on case law precedents, and includes rules made by judges before there was statute law or legislation and rulings by judges about what the statutes mean.

A third source, collective agreements, protects the rights of unionized employees. The information here deals with the rights of non-unionized employees. It provides general information only. If you have a specific problem, you should talk with a lawyer or the Department of Labour and Advanced Education

Some legal terms used here

  •  “Consecutive months of continuous service” means an unbroken period of employment. For example, you have worked for your employer from June 1st 2015 to May 31st 2016. It would be 12 months continuous employment. If you worked for your employer from June to December and then from February to May it may still be treated as continuous employment in some circumstances. Under the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code, a layoff of less than one year does not break the period of continuous employment. Breaks for reasons other than layoff may still be continuous periods of employment if the break is 13 weeks or less.
  •  “Dismissal” is a general term for job termination by an employer. It includes firing, layoff, suspension, lockout, plant shutdown, etc. However, under the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code there are separate definitions for discharge, layoff and suspension. The differences can be important in determining your rights.
  • “Reasonable notice” refers to the amount of notice that your employer should give you if you are being dismissed.
  •  “Just cause for dismissal” refers to a situation under the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code and common law where your employer can fire you without notice. It arises when you behave in such a way that you are considered to have broken your employment relationship and have given your employer just cause, or a "good reason" for dismissing you without notice. The Canada Labour Code does not define “just cause”. It does have provisions for dealing with an employee’'s complaint about dismissal.
  •  “Unjust dismissal” or “wrongful dismissal” are legal terms for a situation where your employer fires you without just cause.

Are you an employee?

The labour codes apply to employees who have lost their jobs. Not everyone who works for someone is an employee. People who are self-employed and work for others as independent contractors do not have the same protections as employees. The distinction between an employee and an independent contractor is not always clear. If you control your own work and how it is to be done, use your own tools and materials, and are solely responsible for your own profit and loss, you are most likely an independent contractor.
If you are not sure if you are an employee, you should contact the Labour Standards Division or get the advice of a lawyer.

The federal and provincial labour laws set out minimum requirements. Your employment contract may exceed those minimums and may deal with matters such as notice periods. If you are a unionized employee, the collective agreement between the union and the employer will usually cover such issues as dismissal, notice periods and layoffs.

What are some ways I can lose my job?

Losing a job can come about in many ways. You could be fired, laid-off, locked out or your employer’s business might fail. As far as the law is concerned, any of these may be a dismissal, and you may be entitled to reasonable notice or pay instead of notice. Even if your employer goes out of business, you have a right to notice of dismissal in many cases. What your rights are may depend on the reasons you lost your job. It is therefore important to talk with a lawyer or to a provincial or federal labour representative about your situation.

There are circumstances when an employer may not have to give reasonable notice. One example is an unforeseen event beyond the employer’s control, such as a fire. Your employer must pay the wages and benefits you earned up to the date of dismissal. In some circumstances, your employer may not have to give you notice if the business closes down because it is bankrupt (that is, the business cannot pay its creditors). If your employer is having financial difficulties, contact Labour Standards.

What are my rights if I lose my job?

Dismissal with notice

Generally, the law requires your employer to tell you in advance if you are going to be dismissed from your job. This gives you time to prepare for your dismissal and to look for another job. In legal terms this is known as reasonable notice of dismissal. In some circumstances your employer does not have to give you reasonable notice of dismissal. This is discussed later on in this document under “Dismissal without notice”.

How much notice should I get?

How much notice you should get will depend upon the circumstances of your employment and on whether you complain to Labour Standards, or Employment and Social Development Canada, or sue your employer in court.

If you complain to the provincial or federal department, you may get a minimum notice period of one to 16 weeks. The length of notice depends on how long you have worked for your employer and the number of other employees dismissed along with you. If you decide to sue your employer in court for wrongful dismissal, you may get longer notice because the courts generally provide longer notice periods than the minimum provided by the labour codes. However, a lawsuit can be expensive, may take a long time, and may cost more than you stand to win.

Pay instead of notice

In all cases, instead of giving you notice, your employer can pay you an amount equal to the wages and benefits you would have earned during the proper notice period. This is known as pay in lieu of notice and is usually preferable because it frees you to look for another job instead of working out your notice period.

Notice under the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code

Notice periods apply to most non-union workers in Nova Scotia.

The following are the minimum notice periods required:

  • one week’s notice if you were employed for three months or more but less than two years;
  • two weeks’ notice if you were employed for two years or more but less than five years;
  • four weeks’ notice if you were employed for five years or more but less than 10 years;
  • eight weeks’ notice if you were employed for 10 years or more.  If you have worked for your employer for 10 or more years, you have additional protection under the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code. If there is no just cause for dismissal, you can ask for your job back. To do this you should ask for reinstatement through the Labour Standards Division.


Where 10 or more employees are dismissed within a four week period, the employer must give them between eight and 16 weeks’ notice. The length of notice depends upon the number of workers dismissed.

If you have worked for your employer for less than three months you are not entitled to the notice provisions under the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code.

Your employer always has a right to give you pay instead of notice. For example, if you are entitled to two weeks’ notice, your employer can give you two weeks’ pay instead.

Notice under the Canada Labour Code

These notice periods apply to workers in federally regulated industries. Notice must be in writing.
The following are the minimum notice periods required:

  • two weeks’ notice of dismissal, or two weeks’ pay instead of notice for all employees with more than three consecutive months of continuous employment;
  • 16 weeks’ notice where 50 or more employees are dismissed from the same industrial establishment within a four week period.

In addition, if you have at least 12 consecutive months of continuous service and you are dismissed without cause, you are entitled to either: 

  • a minimum of five days’ pay, or
  • two days’ pay at the regular rate for each completed year of employment, whichever is more.

Also, if you are dismissed, you can file a complaint of wrongful dismissal with the Employment and Social Development Canada. You must:

  • have 12 consecutive months of continuous employment;
  • not have been laid off;
  • file the complaint in writing within 90 days of dismissal. 

The Department will try to negotiate a settlement between you and your employer. If you are not satisfied with a proposed settlement, you can ask the Department to appoint an adjudicator to decide the issue. The adjudicator may order reinstatement where appropriate or award compensation for lost wages.

Notice under the common law

There are no definite periods of notice under common law. All that is required of an employer is “reasonable notice”, unless there is just cause for dismissal without notice. The purpose of reasonable notice is to provide you with a fair opportunity to find another job. The notice periods granted by the courts under common law are often longer than those required by statute. Each case depends on its facts. Some of the factors usually considered are:

  • your level or position in the organization;
  • your length of service;
  • your age and your ability to find comparable employment;
  • the nature of the industry you work in and industry custom with regard to dismissal and notice;
  • the circumstances surrounding your hiring — especially if you were persuaded to leave;
  • another secure position.

Do all employees have the same rights?

No. Both the provincial and federal labour codes contain a number of exemptions and exceptions that might mean your case is not covered by the general rules. Therefore, it is important that you talk to a lawyer, the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Division or Employment and Social Development Canada about your case.

Some employees may be dismissed without just cause and without proper notice because they are not covered by the termination provisions of the labour codes. An example is construction workers. If you are not covered by the labour codes, you may still use the courts to enforce your rights by suing your employer.

Probationary employees have less protection than permanent employees, although they may be entitled to some notice of dismissal. Some employees are hired for a definite term and know at the time they are hired when their job will end. An example would be a person hired on a government grant. Under the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code, if you are hired for a definite term of less than 12 months, you are not entitled to notice of dismissal when your term of employment is finished. If you are hired for a definite term of more than 12 months, the notice provisions of the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code apply.

Under the Canada Labour Code, if you have worked for an employer for three consecutive months, you should get at least two weeks’ written notice of dismissal or two weeks’ pay instead of notice. Under common law, if your employer dismisses you before your term is complete, you may be entitled to full payment for the unexpired portion of the term, provided you have performed your work satisfactorily. You should get legal advice on your situation.

Unionized employees are treated differently than non-unionized employees. Unionized employees must proceed through the grievance and arbitration procedures set out in their collective agreement.

Dismissal without notice

Your employer may be justified in dismissing you without notice if:

  • you repeatedly or in some serious way failed to do your job properly, or
  • you have acted in a way that makes it clear to your employer that you no longer wish to work for the company.

Whether your employer is justified in firing you without notice depends upon the circumstances leading up to and surrounding your dismissal. Many factors may be relevant, but they must amount to conduct by you which is inconsistent with the fulfilment of the conditions of your job. The Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code requires “wilful misconduct or disobedience or neglect of duty”. In effect, you must, by your conduct, say to your employer, “I am going to break the terms of my employment.” The law refers to this as “just cause” for dismissal without notice and it usually arises in one of two ways:

  • You may do something so bad that it ends the employment relationship immediately. This includes some incidents of theft, being drunk on the job, destruction of property, complete disregard for the safety of others, wilful disobedience, insolence and insubordination.
  • There may be a series of smaller incidents, none of which by themselves would be reason to dismiss you without notice, but which, when taken together, show that you are unwilling or unable to fulfill your responsibilities. Your employer is generally expected to try to fix the problem in other ways before dismissing you without notice. This includes giving you warnings, reprimands, and suspensions in a progressive series of steps up to dismissal.

Contact Labour Standards if you have been dismissed without notice.

Can I be fired without notice if my employer sells the business?

No. Sale or shut down of a business is not usually reason to dismiss you without notice. Other situations where you usually should not be dismissed without notice are:

  • lack of work or job redundancy due to reorganization or some other action within your employer’s control;
  • personality conflict, unless it is accompanied by misconduct;
  • looking for other work;
  • garnishment of your wages.

What if I become pregnant or want to take parental or other leaves?

Your employer may require you to take a leave of absence if you cannot reasonably perform your duties because of pregnancy. Apart from this, after one year’'s employment you are entitled to 17 weeks’ unpaid pregnancy leave under the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code. An employer does not have to pay you during pregnancy leave unless it is company policy or part of your contract.

Employment Insurance usually provides income during the pregnancy-leave period.

In addition, both parents can take up to 17 weeks’ unpaid parental leave following the birth or adoption of a child.

Under the Canada Labour Code, after six consecutive months of continuous employment, an employee who is pregnant is entitled to 17 weeks’ unpaid leave. It also allows a further 24 weeks’ unpaid leave to either parent. This is also available in the case of adoption.

There is a provision in the Employment Insurance Act to pay parental benefits. These benefits are payable to natural or adoptive parents if they meet entitlement conditions. Benefits are usually for 10 weeks but can be extended to 15 weeks in special circumstances. There is also a plan to allow an employer to top-up (add to) Employment Insurance benefits to bring the amount closer to the employee’s usual take-home pay.

You must be allowed to resume work at the end of your leave without loss of seniority or benefits that you earned up to the date you took pregnancy leave. If you are dismissed or prevented from returning to work because of pregnancy, you should contact the Labour Standards Division or Employment and Social Development Canada.

More information: NS Labour Standards Leaves from work page

Can I be fired if I am injured at work and cannot work?

Nova Scotia's Workers Compensation Act provides some protection to injured workers who have been employed for 12 consecutive months. The employer is required to offer employment to injured workers unless the employer can show that it would cause extreme hardship. Contact the Workers Compensation Board and the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commision more information.

Can I refuse to do unsafe work?

The provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act provides some protection to an employee who:

  • is fired for refusing to do unsafe work;
  • makes a complaint under the Act;
  • is on a health and safety committee; or
  • for other matters covered by the Act.

 A non-unionized worker can make a complaint to the Occupational Health and Safety Division, Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education within 30 days of being dismissed. Federal occupational health and safety laws are in Part II of the Canada Labour Code. Complaints about safety should be made as soon as possible to Employment and Social Development Canada.

Can I be fired because of my colour, sex or age or other discriminatory reason?

You cannot be dismissed from your job, with or without notice, for any reason that is contrary to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act. This means that you cannot be fired because of your age, race, colour, religion, creed, ethnic, national or aboriginal origin, sex, sexual orientation,  physical or mental disability, family status, marital status, source of income, gender identity/gender expression, or other prohibited ground of discrimination under the Human Rights Act.

Discrimination on the basis of sex is only allowed if there is a bona fide (genuine) occupational qualification based on sex.  Discrimination on the basis of physical disability is only allowed if the disability affects the ability to properly perform the particular job. For example, if you are visually impaired you may not qualify as a driving instructor.

Employees in federally regulated industries have protection under the Canada Labour Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act.

If you are discriminated against, you should contact either the Nova Scotia or Canadian Human Rights Commission.

Does my employer have to give a reason for firing me?

Under the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code, employers usually do not have to give a reason for firing someone. They can usually dismiss an employee at any time as long as proper notice is given. There are exceptions. For example, if you have worked for an employer for 10 or more years, your employer cannot fire you without just cause. Your employer cannot dismiss you for reasons that are contrary to human rights legislation. Your employer cannot dismiss you because you make a complaint under the Occupational Health and Safety Act or for being on a health and safety committee. Your employer cannot dismiss you because you made a complaint to Labour Standards.

Under the Canada Labour Code, if you have been employed for 12 consecutive months, you can write to your employer asking for reasons for your dismissal in writing. The employer must reply within 15 days of your request. If you feel that you were wrongfully dismissed, you can make a complaint to Employment ans Social Development Canada.

What can I claim if I am wrongfully dismissed?

Under the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code you can claim your pay, including vacation pay, for the required notice period. Under the Canada Labour Code you can claim two weeks’ notice or pay instead of notice. Under both codes you may claim reinstatement in some circumstances.

Under the common law you can claim what you would have received in wages and benefits during the proper notice period. Benefits may include bonuses, overtime, travel allowances, club memberships and contributions to health and insurance plans. You can also claim moving expenses and expenses incurred in finding another job, such as travel expenses, cost of resumés and telephone calls. Compensation for mental distress caused by the act of dismissal is sometimes awarded, although it is rare. Also, claims for loss of reputation or for educational or retraining costs are only accepted in exceptional circumstances. You should talk with a lawyer about your situation.

An employee who is claiming unjust dismissal is expected to mitigate damages. This means that you have an obligation to look for suitable alternative employment. Any income that you earn or should have earned may be deducted from the compensation owed you by your employer.

How do I make my claim?

If you have not received proper notice of your dismissal from your employer you may complain to the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Division or Employment and Social Development Canada, or you may sue your employer in court for wrongful dismissal. If you decide to sue your employer in court, you should get legal advice on your situation. If you complain to the Labour Standards Division, you must make the complaint within six months of dismissal. Complaints about unfair dismissal under the Canada Labour Code must be made within 90 days.

In either case your complaint will be investigated and an order for notice or pay instead of notice may then be made, or your claim may be dismissed. In addition there may be a formal hearing before a decision is made. If either you or the employer disagree with the decision, you can appeal. An officer of the Labour Standards Division or  Employment and Social Development Canada will explain how you make a claim and how you appeal.

If you complain under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, you must do so in writing and within 30 days of dismissal.

If you believe that you were dismissed because of discrimination, you can contact the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission or the Canadian Human Rights Commission. They have investigative and hearing procedures similar to the Labour Standards Division and Employment and Social Development Canada. Their human rights officers will also advise you of how to proceed with your complaint.

If you are not satisfied with the remedies provided by the labour codes, you may want to sue your employer in court for wrongful dismissal. However, going to court is an expensive and time consuming process. Unless you are a senior and well-paid employee of long service, the amount you stand to win in court may be too little to justify the costs and time involved. You should talk with a lawyer before you decide what to do.

What if I quit my job?

Generally, if you quit your job you will not be entitled to notice or pay instead of notice. Under the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code, if you have worked for three months or more you must give your employer advance written notice of your intention to quit. You must give one or two weeks’ notice depending upon your length of service. Many types of operations are exempt from the requirement that an employee give notice. If you are unsure, you can check with the Labour Standards Division.

You may not have to give notice if your employer forces you to quit. This is known as “constructive dismissal”.

Examples are if your employer demotes you, reduces your wages or changes your job requirements without your consent and without proper notice. In such situations, you may be justified in resigning from your job and demanding pay instead of notice. Other possible examples of constructive dismissal include:

  • forced transfer;
  • abusive treatment;
  • reduced work week;
  • unpaid overtime;
  • compulsory leave of absence;
  • short-term lay-offs, where this has not been agreed to between you and your employer.

You may not have to give notice if your employer has broken the terms and conditions of employment. However, some employees who quit without notice have been ordered by the courts to compensate the employer. You should talk to a lawyer or a Labour Standards Officer before you quit without giving notice.

Under the Canada Labour Code an employee does not have to give notice to quit.

Can I be fired if my employer suspects me of stealing?

The Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code does not specifically say that you can be fired for stealing. However, stealing would likely give your employer cause for firing you without notice. If there is proof that you stole from your employer, there may be cause for firing you without notice. Problems usually arise where your employer has no proof that you stole but suspects you.

If you are dismissed without notice in these circumstances, you can complain to the Labour Standards Division.

Under the Canada Labour Code, if you feel that the dismissal was unfair, you can make a complaint to  Employment and Social Development Canada. You must have been in the job for at least 12 consecutive months.

What can I do if my employer gives me bad references?

The law does not require your employer to give you a reference. If your employer gives you a reference, it does not have to be a good one. For example, employers can tell another employer that they would not employ you again. Instead of asking your employer for a reference, you may wish to ask someone else such as your supervisor or the personnel manager. You may be able to sue your employer if anything is said about you that is not true and which damages your reputation and affects your ability to get another job. Suing can be a long and expensive process. You should talk with a lawyer about your situation.

Where can I get more information?


Reviewed June 2017