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Canada’s Rules for Working Hours

You started out with a great business idea, but now you need to implement it. To do that, you need staff, but before you can start hiring, you need to understand basic employment standards. Here’s a quick review of some of the laws governing working hours. 

1. Each province and territory has its own rules and standards tailored to the needs of the region.

For example, provinces in the Maritimes have very different maximum working hours rules than the rest of the country, influenced by its unique industries and the significant use of seasonal workers.

2. Depending on your industry, working hours may be set by the Canada Labour Code or a Collective Agreement.

While maximum working hours are generally governed by the provincial or territorial employment standards legislation, there are exceptions. If you are working in a federally-regulated industry, such as banking, telecommunications, broadcasting, transportation, or in industries where the nature of the work is inter-provincial or nation-wide, your maximum working hours are governed under the Canada Labour Code. If you are represented by a trade union at your workplace, your employees’ working hours will be governed by a collective agreement. A collective agreement is a detailed agreement outlining various workplace standards and policies that the trade union has negotiated on your employees’ behalf during a process referred to as collective bargaining. 

3. The legislation governing employment standards includes many exceptions and special cases.

There are a myriad of different rules and exceptions in legislation that pertain to different professions and industries. For example, employees from certain professions are exempted from the maximum working hours provision. The excluded professions differ from province to province, but common examples include lawyers, doctors, engineers, accountants, and architects.

Not only are there exemptions to the rules, there are also special cases to consider. Unique maximum working hours rules are applicable to employees working in different industries, again dependent on their geographic locations. Young workers, fisherman, agricultural workers, taxi drivers, caretakers, are all examples of occupations that fall under the special maximum working hours provision. 

4. Meeting the minimum employment standards is not an easy feat.

If an employee’s workplace rights are violated, it's crucial the employer remedy the mistake immediately. An employee may take his or her concerns to the Ministry of Labour, or whichever department that is responsible for overseeing such claims in their region. 

Generally, employees are protected under the law in that they cannot be disciplined or terminated by their employers for raising questions about a violation of their workplace rights. Different provinces have their own processes and procedures in place for dealing with employment standards issues. However, instead of being reactive, why not be proactive? Conduct research on the issue and consult with an employment lawyer if necessary. If you feel unsafe or unsure about approaching your employee directly, you should consult with an employment lawyer before initiating anything. The lawyer will be able to guide you through the process and help you understand any issues or other violations that you may have overlooked. 

How to get started:

  1. Visit the website of your provincial or territorial government to find the employment standards legislation that applies to your business.
  2. If you are still unsure even after conducting some of the initial research by yourself, try calling your provincial or territorial Ministry of Labour. As long as you are not seeking legal advice, they should be able to provide you with information regarding your rights and responsibilities under the employment standards legislation.

Helpful Resources

Below is a starter list of links to the employment standards resources for each province and territory.

British Columbia:

Hours of Work and Overtime Factsheet – from the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training


Employment Standards and Definitions  – Ministry of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour


Quick Guide to Employment Standards  – Manitoba Labour and Immigration

 New Brunswick:

Employment StandardsMinistry of Post-Secondary Education, Training, and Labour

Newfoundland and Labrador:

Labour Standards Frequently Asked QuestionsLabour Relations Agency

Nova Scotia:

Employment Rights: Breaks, Hours of WorkLabour and Advanced Education


Hours of Work / OvertimeMinistry of Labour

Prince Edward Island:

Employment StandardsDepartment of Justice and Public Safety


Work Schedule Facts and Frequently Asked QuestionsCommission des normes du travail


Employment StandardsGovernment of Saskatchewan

Northwest Territories:

Frequently Asked QuestionsEducation, Culture and Employment


Human Resources ManualNunavut Government


Employment Standards Frequently Asked QuestionsDepartment of Community Services

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