Sometimes an honest and respectful conversation is the best way to resolve an issue at work. Still, the thought of approaching your boss can be stressful. Below are tips to help you talk with your employer.
Need to know
- Talking with your employer can be a productive way to resolve an issue at work.
- You do not have to talk with your employer before taking more formal steps.
- You do not have to talk with your employer alone.
- Your employer may not react well to your concerns.
- Your employer cannot fire you for just cause because you raise an issue.
Know your options
Talking to your employer is a great first step, but it is not your only option. You do not have to take informal steps, like talking to your employer, before you can take more formal steps, such as writing a letter or making a formal complaint. For example, if you do not feel safe or comfortable talking to your employer, you may choose to make a complaint as your first step. You can choose the step that makes the most sense for your situation.
Find a support person to talk to
Before you talk to your employer about a concern, you may want to find a support person to talk to first.
For example, it can be helpful to first talk out the issue with friends, coworkers, or your union representative (if you’re in a union). They may be able to share what happened with similar issues. You may also want their support if you later decide to take a more formal step, such as writing a letter or making a complaint. Keep a written record of who you spoke with, what was said, and any action taken. If you contact someone outside your workplace, take care not to share any of your employer’s confidential information.
You can also bring someone with you for support when you meet with your employer. You might ask a coworker or your union representative (if you’re in a union) to join you. They can provide moral support and take notes so you can be fully in the conversation. If you decide to bring someone along, ask your employer for permission first.
Prepare for your employer’s reaction
Most employers want to hear from their employees. But some may react poorly to you speaking up.
Your employer cannot fire you for just cause if you raise a workplace issue, make a request, or bring a complaint. Several laws protect you if your boss fires you for raising a complaint, including human rights and occupational health and safety laws.
Remember though, unless there are certain factors in play (such as human rights issues), your employer can end your employment at any time as long as they give you enough advance notice or pay instead of notice. What’s enough depends on what your employment contract says or the minimum you are entitled to by law.
How to talk with your employer
Step 1: Set up a time to meet
Avoid going to your employer while you are still highly emotional about the issue. Give yourself time to cool off and collect your thoughts. Ask your employer for a time you can meet in private.
Step 2: Prepare what you want to say
Write down what you are unhappy about and what you want to achieve. Note any specific incidents, including the date, place, and how it made you feel. Note any conversations you had with others, such as a manager (but do not mention conversations with your lawyer or doctor).
List the three main points you want to make. This can help you figure out what is most important to you, and help you remember what you want to say.
Before you talk with your employer, think about the outcome you want. How do you hope your employer responds? To help with this, put yourself in their shoes. Think about what you would do if you were them. You can make reasonable suggestions to give your employer something to work with.
Gather anything that supports your position, such as:
- letters or emails relating to the issue
- paystubs (for example, if part of your pay is missing)
- your written employment contract (if you have one)
- the specific laws that apply to your situation (CPLEA.ca has information about employment law in plain language that you may consider bringing up)
In private, rehearse what you want to say to your employer.
Step 3: Have the conversation with your employer
Here is a template you can follow for the conversation:
- Respectfully and calmly explain what the problem is.
“I am concerned about my workload.”
- Briefly explain the impact on you.
“I am working more hours than I am being paid for to try to get everything done.”
- Suggest one or more solutions.
“Perhaps if another team member has capacity, they could take on some of these responsibilities.”
- Ask for a response by a certain date.
“Can you please let me know how you will address this issue by [date].”
|Watch your body|
|Look at your employer, lean into the conversation and|
|Be an active listener|
Say “What I hear you saying is …” to repeat back what
|Make “I” statements||For example, say “I need flexibility” rather than “You|
have not given me flexibility”.
|Use qualifying words||For example, say “perhaps” or “maybe” rather than|
“always” or “never”.
|Ask for their view||Say “I am wondering if you can understand how that|
Step 4: Make notes of the conversation
After the conversation, make notes of what you and your employer said, and the date and time you spoke. Also note the outcome. Did your employer say they would get back to you by a certain date with a decision?
Step 5: Send a follow-up email
After the conversation, it may be useful to email your employer a summary of the conversation. List the main points covered and the requested response deadline. If the issue does not get resolved, this brief record of the conversation may be helpful down the road.
Who can help
Learn more from CPLEA about your rights at work!
Workers’ Resource Centre
Free help for Alberta workers with employment issues.
Alberta Human Rights Commission
Make a discrimination complaint under Alberta human rights laws.
Alberta Occupational Health and Safety office
Government office to whom you can report unsafe work practices under Alberta OHS laws.
Alberta Employment Standards office
Government office to whom you can make a complaint about an employer not following Alberta’s employment standards laws.
Employment and Social Development Canada
Government office to whom you can make a complaint against an employer in a federally regulated industry.
ADR Institute of Alberta
Find a mediator or arbitrator to help resolve disputes without going to court.