Working without contract : Questions from all angles

Working without contract – What is a work contract? Are there risks related to working without an established contract? Does the law on labour standards protect all types of work? Let’s examine these questions from all angles.

Working without contract

“I understood that,” “It seemed to me,” “I ignored that,” are phrases, Jocelyne Cotnoir often hears as part of her duties as Assistant Director of the Centre juridique de Montréal de la Commission des normes du travail. She describes, “These are said by employees who misinterpreted or—worst—ignored the nature of the agreement binding them to their employer and mapping out their respective obligations.”

In other words, they misunderstood their work contract covering all work facets from remuneration to task descriptions during work hours. According to the Assistant Director, migrants, students, and the uneducated, profit the most from knowing the inner workings of the system.

Misunderstanding has unfortunate consequences on employees such as reprimands, disciplinary measures, or simply dismissal. It can dangerously undermine the relationship of trust with an employer, not to mention the workplace. 

According to Cotnoir, numerous people have disagreements that could have been avoided by linking both parties through a written work contract instead of a verbal one. She explains, “Even if they were both valid, it is much easier to prove the content on paper.” 

She further underlines that a written contract must be read, analyzed, and understood before being signed. Do not hesitate to ask for clarification, in fact, cross out certain clauses. She assures, “The employer can never use signing as a pressure tactic or blackmail.”

The fixed minimum

In absence of a formal work contract between an employee and employer, the “Act Respecting Labour Standards” guarantees a fixed minimum regarding work rights. It is impossible to work a salary lower than minimum wage ($11.25) in Quebec.  Even if the employee signs a contract that specified it! Cotnoir highlights, “In case of recourse, the clause is nullified and cannot be invoked against the latter.” 

Note that the act does not apply to certain employment categories such as self-employed, management, independent entrepreneurs, and so on. Unsurprisingly, undeclared jobs are not protected either. The jurist cautious us that undeclared work is often recommended by abusive employers wanting to deliberately circumvent the law and exploit workers. 

An example of a work contract can be found on the Commission des normes du travail’s website :

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