Thursday, August 03, 2006

Unpaid Wages and Severance Pay

“Punjabi, please,” says the next caller.

I put him on hold as I arrange for an interpreter to join us by conference call. After getting the interpreter’s name and ID number, I confirm with her that the conversation is strictly confidential and protected by lawyer / client confidentiality. Then I complete the three-way connection, and the interpreter and the caller introduce each other.

Rupinder was laid off from his job with a restaurant where he had been working as a dishwasher for five months. It seems that business was slow, and the owner needed to trim costs. Rupinder wasn’t totally surprised, but he did not receive any advance notice.

That’s life, he figures, but he is concerned that he hasn’t been paid for the work he’s done since his last regular paycheque. Does he have to go to court? Also, he is wondering if he is eligible for EI.

As for E.I., I tell him he probably does qualify and should go ahead and apply. He has his Record of Employment (“R.O.E.”), which is good, because the E.I. people will need to get a copy of it. I also point out that E.I. does not pay any compensation for the first two weeks of a person’s unemployment.

As for his unpaid wages, although Rupinder could pursue a claim in court for unpaid wages and severance pay, it would probably not be worthwhile to pursue this option, since his potential claim is not that big, due to his short period of service and low wage rate.

Instead, it would be far more practical for him to enforce his rights under the Employment Standards Act, which states that in B.C., employees have must be paid all outstanding wages within 48 hours of being let go, including vacation pay. Also, the Act states that “wages” includes severance pay. Employees who have worked for an employer between three months to a year must be paid an extra week’s wages as severance pay.

It’s possible that the employer intends to pay him all of this at the end of the next pay period. However, if he isn’t paid or doesn’t want to wait, he will need to get a “Self-Help kit” from the Employment Standards Branch, the government agency responsible for enforcing the Act. He should fill out the kit and deliver the demand part of it to his employer. If he does not get paid within 15 days of delivery, he can then file a complaint with the Branch.

He can get the Self-Help Kit and the complaint form from the Branch’s website or one of their offices. If he needs help completing it, we can help, or he can contact MOSIAC, a non-profit immigrant assistance society.

If the matter isn’t settled after 15 days of delivering the demand for payment, he should contact us or MOSAIC for help with taking the next step of filing a complaint with the Branch.

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