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How can I recover unpaid wages?

An empty wallet. Stock photo by Getty Images

It’s unfortunately somewhat common for workers to get stiffed on wages. Employees who put up a fight are sometimes threatened or fired.

However, bounced cheques and broken promises won’t pay the rent. So what can you do if your boss won’t pay what you’re owed?

Court is always an option. You can take your employer to small claims court, which is a low-cost and relatively easy form of litigation to recover smallish sums, usually $25,000 or less, depending on the province.

Another option is filing a complaint with your ministry of labour. Depending on your type of job, you’re likely covered by your province’s employment standards act or the Canada Labour Code. These all provide ways to file complaints and recover lost wages.

These programs are fairly similar. An unpaid employee lodges a complaint and an investigator examines the case. There may be limits on how much or for what period you can seek unpaid wages. Federally, you can seek a maximum six months worth of payments and you must also file a complaint within six months of the last date when you should have been paid.

Those time limits vary according to provincial laws. In 2015, Ontario extended that complaint window, allowing employees two years in which to file a claim and also eliminated the former $10,000 cap on maximum claims.

If the investigator finds the complaint is valid, they’ll tell the boss to pay up. If that doesn’t work, they can issue a payment order or seek a court order.

A business may also be required to pay interest on those unpaid wages.

Unpaid wages could also constitute a lien against the business and those payments may supersede other debts the business owes.

Read more:

Wage Recovery program (Federal)

Filing an Employment Standards Claim (Ontario)