Employers often fire first and ask questions later.
Brian Krueger would prefer that they reverse this sequence when contemplating the termination of a worker. Better still, he’d like to see them at one of his employment standards workshops before the issue even arises.
A workplace education consultant with Alberta Employment and Immigration’s workplace standards branch, Krueger’s job is to raise employers’ and employees’ awareness of their rights and obligations under the Employment Standards Code and regulations. This task takes him to communities from Medicine Hat to Red Deer, where he speaks to groups about employment standards.
Red Deer is on Krueger’s itinerary the last Tuesday of every month, except July and August. Speaking at the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce office, he shares his knowledge with anyone interested in attending — free of charge.
“We want employers to be on side with the code and know their rights and obligations, and we want the employees to know their rights and obligations,” he explained of his mandate.
Lasting anywhere from three to 4 1/2 hours, Krueger’s workshops cover a variety of topics: minimum wage requirements, payroll records, statements of earnings and deductions, hours of work and rest, overtime and overtime pay, vacation and vacation pay, general holidays and holiday pay, termination of employment, maternity and parental leave, employment of adolescents and young persons, and self-employed/subcontractor relationships.
“Companies can phone us up and have us come out and talk to their people only,” he pointed out.
“I can cater it to what the employer wants. If they want me to come out to their company and talk for 45 minutes on overtime, I can do that for them.”
Termination tends to be a popular topic at Krueger’s workshops, which are dominated by employers. Most want to know what constitutes just cause.
An employment standards officer for 2 1/2 years before he moved into his current position in January 2008, Krueger has found that many employers assume they have no payment obligations when firing a staff member. But this is only the case when the dismissal occurs with just cause.
Other employers get into trouble for not providing sufficient overtime pay, or such other remuneration that they’re entitled to, he said.
“We get a very wide variety of claims — everything from people not paying vacation pay properly and not knowing how to pay general holiday pay.”
Another common area of confusion is vacation entitlements, including situations where employers claim that holidays are lost if they are not used on a timely basis.
“An employee never loses any unused vacation days,” pointed out Krueger.
On the flip side, many people don’t realize employers have the right to direct when their workers must take their vacation time, provided this is done with sufficient notice.
Although many of the employers who attend his workshops are pretty knowledgeable about employment standards, they always learn something, said Krueger. And it’s in their best interest to know the rules.
“The onus is on the employer to pay their people properly. They cannot claim ignorance.”
Krueger said the number of complaints filed with his branch has increased with the economic downturn. He attributes this to employers working with more limited resources and workers no longer being able to leave an unfair situation for a job elsewhere.
That said, complaints arise in good times and bad.
“There are a lot of claims always coming in; an investigating officer, their job never ends.”
The influx of foreign workers in recent years has resulted in some employers taking advantage of them, said Krueger. They’ll force the workers to sign away their rights or threaten them if they don’t submit to unlawful treatment.
Employee abuses are more common in some industries than others, said Krueger, but he stressed that there are good and bad employers in every sector.
Anyone interested in registering in one of Krueger’s workshops can call him at 403- 297-579 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about employment standards can also be found online at www.employment.alberta.ca/es, or by calling the Employment Standards Help Line in Edmonton at 1-877-427-3731.