Most people would agree that our jobs and the work we do are among the most important aspects of our lives. Jobs provide a livelihood and allow us to support ourselves and our family. Our jobs contribute to our identity (I am a teacher, a banker, an electrician). Jobs contribute to our self-worth, giving us purpose, motivation and allow us to contribute to something larger than ourselves.
For something that is of such importance, rarely do people think about what “makes” a job. In reality, our work is based on a series of complicated, dynamic and ever-changing relationships. These include relationships with our employer, with our clients and with our co-workers. Although most people would not know it, at the base of these relationships is a contract between the employee and his or her employer.
Many people are surprised to hear that they have a contract with their employer. That is because most people have never reduced to writing the terms of their employment contracts. This means that most employees have verbal or implied employment contracts.
Many of the terms of this implied contract should not come as a surprise. In fact, most employees already recognize that they have certain obligations to respect. For example, it is expected that employees will show up to work on time, will work regular hours, will do the work that they are assigned to perform, and will treat their co-workers and supervisors respectfully. Employers also have obligations, such as paying its staff the salary that has been agreed to, respecting employment standards and human rights legislation and providing a healthy working environment. Together, these terms, along with many other conditions, create a binding employment contract. With this contract comes duties, responsibilities and benefits to both the employee and the employer.
This contract, however, can in most cases be broken at any time. From the employee’s perspective, breaking the employment contract is usually as simple as resigning. However, the employer can also break the employment contract. In Canada, when an employer breaks the employment relationship, it has an obligation to provide the employee reasonable notice of the end of the employment. This notice is designed to provide the employee with the time and the resources to seek out comparable work. In the event that the employer does not provide the employee with reasonable notice, the dismissal is deemed to be a wrongful dismissal. In these situations, the employee may be able to take legal action against their former employer for damages they suffered during the notice period.