If you could have done it differently

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Your rights still count, even when your job is just a job. But when your rights were overlooked or you were treated unfairly, you might look back and wonder what you could have done. Lawyer Bill Reid gives his advice

Mahmoud Bin Shikhan
Engineering student
Working: Security

Early on in my university career, a friend’s advice led me toward security as an ideal job; generally weekend hours, not much supervision and lots of time to yourself. I applied for a job as a security guard with G4S Securicor in the summer of 2008.

After completing three days of mandatory (and unpaid) training, I met with Mal Jones. He gave me the address of the site of my new place of employment and my starting rate. I was to start at $10 per hour and given my 14 months of security experience beforehand, I would be given a 50 cent raise to $10.50 per hour after a three month probationary period.

Three months came and went. I opened my pay stub and saw an unchanged pay. Giving Mal the benefit of the doubt, I waited for my next stub, but my pay stayed at the same rate. I tried several times to call Jones in his office, but he seemed to be engaged in a permanent business meeting that lasted all day long, five days a week, even through his scheduled lunch hour. The fall semester was in full swing, so I let this issue slide for the time being.

After nine months, I finally decided to fax the G4S office a memo reminding them of the agreement we reached and that if they chose to not honour it or continue to ignore me, that memo could dual as my two-week’s notice. The next day, Mal gave me a call. At first he tried to explain himself by telling me that he was in the middle of re-negotiating the contract with the landlord of the property I was assigned to and suggested that was the cause of my lack of raise. I reminded him of our agreement and that contract negotiations have nothing to do with me. He agreed and offered me a raise to $11 per hour.

Getting back into work the next weekend, I updated my co-worker. She told me that she had similar difficulty getting a raise that was promised when she was hired. When she finally got it, she went a step further and demanded they pay the amount she lost in the meantime, and demanded she get it in one lump sum. With some expected difficulty, she claimed she actually got the money she was owed. I was a bit taken aback, but decided to follow suit. I was, after all, owed somewhere in the region of $900 had I gotten the raise when I should have.

Knowing full well Mal’s phone was mostly likely off its hook again, I faxed another memo making the same request my co-worker had and, again, if he did not wish to give me what I asked for, this memo can also double as my two-week’s notice. Mal didn’t call me back, so two weeks later I called HR and informed them of my intention to quit.

Bill Reid says:

Mahmoud should have been paid for his training. Unpaid training is a common practice, but is legal only in specific circumstances. Mahmoud’s situation doesn’t sound like it falls within them.

It’s not clear whether the promise of a raise appeared in a written agreement, however an employee should always ask that such a promise be made in writing — if an employer hesitates to do so, the promise probably isn’t sincere. If such a promise is in writing and the employer doesn’t follow through, the employee would have the right to consider the agreement breached and could sue for the wage differential. A reasonable employee would allow the employer time before taking such a step, but if that didn’t seem to be happening, the employee would have to choose between enforcing, or foregoing, his or her legal rights.

Charles Vanegas
Journalism student
Working: Domino’s Pizza

When I was 16 I got my first job at a Domino’s Pizza. The first six months were great. I got lots of hours, the work was simple, and I developed a great relationship with the owner. The problem was his girlfriend Holly, the manager, was a racist.

Her cousin, who also worked at the store, had a crush on me. Holly stopped me one day and said, “When I had a black boyfriend, her dad and mine beat him with a baseball bat.”

Over the next year, I overheard her say things like “I really like this town because there are no ni–ers here,” “I wish we still had slaves,” and, “I don’t hire people with dark skin because they have bad work ethnic.” (No, she actually thought it was ‘work ethnic’).

I had a major problem with the racism, but I never went to the labour board because I heard it took over six months for them to even look at your complaint. Also, I didn’t want to jeopardize my job because it’s nearly impossible to find jobs (even shitty ones) in Lindsay, Ont.

One day, she went on a rant about how “she always sees half-breeds when she goes back to Oshawa.” She had met both of my parents (I’m half white, half afro-latino), and still thought it was okay to talk about “half-breeds.”

I spoke to the store owner and let him know what was up. He called her and blasted her. Co-workers later told me she was cursing my name for hours afterwards.

She tried to fire me on a number of occasions, but the owner told her “it’s my store, he stays.”

Then she would try to get me to quit by giving me dangerous tasks and cutting my shifts.

Bill Reid says:

Charles was obviously the victim of workplace harassment and discrimination, of the kind prohibited by Ontario’s human rights legislation. He was right to report that harassment and discrimination to the attention of the owner. The owner appears to have recognized that the manager’s behaviour was inappropriate, and he took certain steps to curtail it, but not to the extent that he completely extinguished that behaviour, as he had an obligation to do. Charles accordingly could still have filed an application with the Human Rights Tribunal, and chose instead to tolerate a perhaps reduced level of harassment and discrimination — which no employee legally has to do, but many choose to do as a practical matter, rather than to undertake the process of enforcing their rights.

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