Treeplanter Complaints Lead to Bogus “bonus” Payment Clarification

Both the Employment Standards Branch and the WSCA have recently received complaints from silviculture workers claiming they have not received “bonuses” promised to them by their employers for completing a project or a season of forestry work. In almost all cases these promised “loyalty” or “end of season” bonuses are illegal and actually are wages owed to workers regardless of how long they work for an employer.

The Employment Standards Act defines piecework or incentive wages as any promised earnings determined by productivity, hours of work or efficiency. In all cases wages cannot be deferred or withheld by an employer. So in instances where an employer offers to pay an extra amount to a worker upon completion of a project, or the season, or any other condition, as a kind of incentive to remain with the employer, it is a false bonus. It is a wage and cannot be held back from the employee. The employer must pay the amount, whether it is based on a per tree basis or is some promised lump sum. It is owed whether or not the employee stays with the employer. In other words an employer cannot use this method to penalize workers who quit, or get fired, before the end of a project or season.

A true bonus is an amount paid to an employee at the discretion of the employer. An employer can pay a bonus for whatever reason they see fit. But it cannot be directly determined due to a promise regarding how long an employee worked for an employer, or how much work they did or how efficiently they did it. In almost every case, whether the books are cooked to conceal the bonus amount, or if a contract is signed with the employee saying they agree to the bonus condition, it is illegal on the part of the employer to pay workers in this manner. The workers are owed the money and it should be paid as part of their wage package.

To put it plainly end of season or loyalty “bonuses” are illegal. Any employer found guilty by the Branch for using them will be compelled to pay the amounts, possibly plus penalties.

The issue is problematic because many employees apparently think the bonus payment is legitimate. When they file a complaint saying they have not received a “bonus”, the officer receiving the complaint has to first sort out whether it is a wage or a bonus. This has led to some confusion. An officer may say right away that they have no jurisdiction over bonuses, which is true, since for the purposes of the Employment Standards Act a true bonus is not a wage. Unless the complainant understands that it is not an unpaid bonus but an unpaid wage they are owed they may find it frustrating dealing with the Branch.

The simple remedy is for employees to realize any employer promising them a bonus or other payment incentive based on how long they work or how well they work or how efficiently they work is employing them under a false and illegal agreement. They should not work for the employer and should report them to the Employment Standars Branch. All workers who have been paid, or not paid, in this manner should file a complaint with the Branch.