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My employer says I'm suspended without pay. What does this mean?

My employer says I'm suspended without pay. What does this mean?


Clear language definitions to common legal terms. 

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September, 2015

Sometimes employers stop people from working for a while or reduce their hours by:

  • sending them home from work early
  • telling them not to come to work for a period of time
  • not scheduling them for shifts or giving them hours of work

You lose money because you're not working. Employers call this "suspending" you without pay.

Some collective agreements and employment agreements give employers the right to suspend workers without pay in some cases. But if you don't have an agreement that says your employer can do this, a suspension without pay is like being fired.

Reasons employers suspend workers

Your employer might send you home early or tell you not to come to work for a while because of something they say you did. For example, they might say you made a mistake that cost them money or you caused problems at work.

Your employer might do this so they can fire you later without giving you the notice of termination that the law says you should get. They might suspend you so they can say they warned you and gave you a chance to correct the problem.

Suspended for asking about your rights

The law says your employer can't punish you for asking about your rights or asking them to respect your rights. For example, you might ask your employer about:

  • paying you wages they owe you
  • taking vacation time they owe you

Deciding what to do if you're suspended

If you want to keep your job, there may not be anything you can do about the suspension.

If you're willing to leave your job, you may be able to treat the suspension the same as being fired.

But if you do this and your employer had a good reason to fire you, you might not have a right to notice of termination.

Find out if you're covered by the Employment Standards Act

Ontario's Employment Standards Act (ESA) has rules that employers must follow, including rules about when you have to get what you're owed if you're fired from your job.

Use the Ministry of Labour's online tool called Industries and Jobs with Exemptions or Special Rules to find out if your job is covered by the ESA and which parts of the ESA apply.

You can also call the Ministry's Employment Standards Information Centre at 1-800-531-5551, 416-326-7160, or 1-866-567-8893 (TTY).

If the ESA does not cover your situation, check What laws apply to me as a worker?

December, 2016
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Try to get legal advice

The most important thing you can do if your employer suspends you without pay is get legal advice.

Even if you signed an employment contract giving your employer the right to suspend you, you might have rights.

A lawyer with experience in employment law can help by giving you advice about whether:

The Law Society Referral Service can give you the name of a lawyer or paralegal you can consult with for free, for up to 30 minutes.

JusticeNet is a program for Canadians with low or moderate incomes. It connects people with lawyers and paralegals who charge lower legal fees based on your income.

There are community legal clinics across Ontario that provide free legal services to people with low incomes. Some clinics help people with work-related problems. And if a clinic can't help you, they may be able to refer you to someone in your community who can.

December, 2016
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Take steps to protect your rights

If your employer asks you to sign something

Your employer might ask you to sign something admitting you did something wrong. If your employer insists that you sign, you can write: "I'm signing here only to admit that I have been shown this document."

You can also send a letter or email to your employer to confirm that your signature does not mean you agree with what's in the document.

Keep your own records of events

If you end up losing your job, you might decide to take legal steps against your employer to get what they owe you.

If you need evidence about what happened, it's helpful if you have notes. And it's best to make notes right after things happen while your memory of the events is clear.

If you email the notes to yourself, this can help show when the notes were made.

If your employer says you did something wrong and you disagree, you may want to record your version of what happened. You can put this in a letter or an email that you send to your employer. Keep a copy for yourself.

But, if you can, get legal advice before you send anything. You don't want to say something that your employer can use against you.

October, 2016
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