Why do I need an employment contract? Does it need to be in writing?

This is a bit of a funny question. The short answer is no – you don’t need a written employment contract. Legally, if you’re performing work for someone and they are paying you for your work, then you have an employment contract – it just isn’t on paper.

A written contract is what gives you and your employer some certainty in the employment relationship. It forms an agreement between the two of you about things like your job duties, your hours of work, your benefits (if you receive any), etc. Otherwise if it’s not in your contract, then it’s usually the employment standards laws of your province, along with judgments in previous employment law cases, that set out the rules (learn more about that here). 

Remember – an employment contract is usually meant to protect your employer more than it protects you. Without a written contract, the ESA (or the Canada Labour Code, for a smaller number of federal employees) is what governs your employment, and no contract can legally offer you anything less than your legal minimums. There are exceptions though – click here to learn more.