History of Employment Law in Canada

Posted by heritagelawoffices on Aug 16, 2018 in Blog, Employment Law

Employment law covers a wide range of regulations and protections that are constantly evolving to best serve both the Canadian economy and its workers. While each case is unique, modern legal standards stand on centuries of previous cases and decisions that make up the history of employment law in Canada. Are you interested in reflecting what brought us here today? Read Heritage Law’s crash course below and feel free to contact us with questions or concerns.


The Indigenous populations of North America relied on hunting, gathering and trading, thriving for centuries before the arrival of Europeans. Once settled as the New World, these new arrivals exploited the rich fishing grounds and fur trade. Along with this, Europeans introduced indentured servitude and forced labour– concepts mostly alien to the welcoming First Nations. Competing interests would lead to bloody conflict until the colonizing countries would set their differences aside in the interest of profit.

Confederation (1867-1890s)

Canadian Confederation– the union of several colonies– marked a bleak time where labour became grueling and dangerous, but no protections yet existed. The Industrial Revolution dominated the late 19th century, increasing urbanization and popularizing child labour. Safety standards always came second to innovation, as well as the pocketbooks of the emerging upper middle class.

First half of the 20th century (1900s-1950s)

Hardly free from oppression or greed, the early 20th century did see the average worker’s life improve– despite the continued dominance of robber barons and tycoons. Modern philosophy introduced the concept of unions, workers’ rights and strikes. Labourers risked their well-being, but by midcentury: many workforces had achieved breakthroughs such as humane working hours and unemployment insurance.

Post-WWII (1950s & 60s)

Post-war Canada was a revolutionary time for the common worker, as these decades would not only see the end of child labour– but also the introduction of collective bargaining and regulated workplace safety. One major milestone was the Canadian Government officially ratifying an International Labour Organization (ILO) convention to abolish forced labour completely. Another was the founding of the Canadian Labour Congress, a national workers’ protection association.

Modern Era (1970s – Present)

Since 1970, changes to Canada’s economy and the Canadian Labour Code have led to further regulations and protections. Employers are held responsible for wrongful dismissals and they must also protect their employees rights to maternity (or parental) leave— additionally, they might be financially liable for damages claimed by a wronged worker.

The sections above are only a summary of certain points in the history of employment law in Canada. Questions? Concerns? Contact or visit us today!