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Top tips for working in Canada

The working environment in Canada is straightforward but respectful; all employees can expect to be treated with fairness.

There is a strong team ethic and feeling of equality but don’t be surprised if colleagues are at least initially a little reserved.

The working week is generally from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, although many in the service industry work much longer hours and many shops open on Sundays. The expectation is that you will be prompt in meeting deadlines and on time for attending meetings. Handshakes are expected to be firm with eye contact, and of course a well-groomed presentation is important.

Communication

The main business language in Canada is English but in Quebec, where French is predominantly spoken, it is good to have a command of both languages. Some employers may require you to be bilingual, for instance the federal government (since both are official languages of Canada) as well as some employers in the hospitality and tourism industry. If you carry business cards, it is a good idea to have one side printed in French.

Be prepared for possible differences in the mannerisms of Anglophone and Francophone speakers: as a general rule, those talking in English may be more reserved, whereas someone using French may be more exuberant.

It is normal to be plain spoken in the usual working environment, with ideas put forward clearly but honestly. Asking questions is completely acceptable, and be prepared for constructive criticism. There is no room for rudeness or aggressiveness, however, and this is likely to be frowned upon.

Expect managers to be less aloof and more a part of the team. Final decisions are still likely to be made at a managerial level but it will be more of a team effort.

Rights

Each province has its own employment law:

  • Minimum wage – Depends on the type of industries and lifestyle of the area but it varies from the lowest in New Brunswick to the highest in the Northwest Territories.
  • Paid holidays – There are nine paid national holidays a year. In addition to New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Thanksgiving (which is in October in Canada) and Christmas, there are holidays for Victoria Day (May), Canada Day (July) and Labour Day (September). In addition, each territory or province may also have its own holidays, according to local celebrations.
  • Paid vacation – Generally two weeks a year (after one year of employment) rising to three after five or six years but this varies from region to region.  It is worth noting that this is a much lower amount of paid holiday leave than in most places in Europe, for instance.
  • Sick leave – Employees are entitled to sick leave protection of 17 weeks after they have worked with an employer for three months.
  • Some territories have an allowance for emergency leave (for bereavement for example) but all of them allow up to 28 weeks for compassionate care leave. See here for more information.
  • Pregnancy and parental leave – Between 15 and 18 weeks' paid maternity leave and up to 52 weeks’ parental leave.  Most employers will require you to have worked with them for a certain period of time to qualify for maternity leave.
  • Notice of termination of employment — From one week to 10, depending on number of years of service.
  • Health and safety standards are high in Canada with many legal protections for employees in the workplace. Workers have the right to refuse dangerous work, for example, but also have a duty to follow appropriate procedures and comply with regulations where appropriate.   
  • Women have equal rights to men and are now increasingly seen in top level positions.
  • Tax – The first year after you arrive in Canada, you are treated as a newcomer for tax purposes and will have to follow particular rules about what income to declare for the part of the year you were not resident in Canada. You will have to pay both federal and provincial taxes, and will probably need to file a tax return.  After that you are treated as simply being a resident.  You (and your spouse and any children) will need to apply for a Social Insurance Number.  You can find more information about taxation here.

Regionalism

Spanning thousands of miles with an incredibly varied set of landscapes and proud of its multicultural population, it is no wonder that Canada’s different regions are home to a whole host of different industries and working environments. For example, interactions in Ontario, the business hub and home of the federal government, can tend to be more reserved and conservative, whereas in British Columbia, they may be more laid-back, unconventional and forward-looking.

Quebec has a very strong sense of identity, so as well as the use of French as a common business language, it is important to remember that there is a strong spirit of distinction from the rest of Canada.

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