wA Global News investigation into allegations from whistle-blowers of two Subways in Aldergrove has prompted immediate investigations and growing calls to change B.C.’s Employment Standards Act.
The accusations include being refused overtime and statutory holiday pay, poor working conditions, bullying by the boss and food safety violations.
“It’s wrong and I’ll keep fighting until it’s right,” one whistle-blower told Global News.
“It’s not about money, it’s about the fight for our rights.”
Subway Canada, Fraser Health and the Employments Standards Branch have been probing the allegations.
In a statement, Subway Canada said in part, “our investigation into these allegations is continuing… when Subway officials conducted an inspection at the beginning of this process, all food was found to be in full compliance with freshness and quality standards.”
The whistle-blowers say they hope the investigation will look into potential food safety violations that may have occurred prior to the story being made public.
They say they were always told the exact day and time of Subway’s so-called surprise monthly inspections, at times allegedly being advised to hide expired food product in their personal vehicles while those inspections were being conducted.
The employees have now learned that if a decision is made to compensate them for missed pay, they’d only get retroactively paid for six months.
In accordance with the Employment Standards Act, if an employee doesn’t file a formal complaint within six months, they’re essentially out of luck.
The employees Global News spoke to said they didn’t file a complaint soon enough because they didn’t know the rules or were too scared to speak up.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize and appreciate that the rights that they have under the Employment Standards Act are time-limited — you only have six months from the date that something occurs or from the date of your termination to bring a complaint,” Lia Moody, employment lawyer and managing partner of the Vancouver Office of Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, said.
WATCH: Concerning allegations from employees of two Subway locations in Aldergrove
In B.C., employees can only pursue their entitlements under the Employment Standards Act through the Employment Standards Branch, Moody said.
“They can’t pursue your claim civilly unless the terms of the Employment Standards Act are specifically included as part of their contract.”
Moody compares B.C. to both Ontario in Saskatchewan, where she said there’s a one-year window to pursue the claim and even if that window is missed, a claim can be pursued civilly.
“Which means you’ve got two years in which to bring the complaint, you can then also seek two years of overtime pay or stat pay,” she said.
B.C.’s Employment Standards Act is being comprehensively reviewed for the first time in 20 years and Moody is calling for change.
“I don’t think that six months is enough time to inform people about their rights,” Moody added.
The allegations of poor treatment of employees at Subway Aldergrove are causing deep concern for a long time customer who frequents the restaurants; so much so, he complained to Subway Corporate last year.
Global News has agreed to conceal the identity of the customer, who works in the industry and fears it may compromise his position.
“One of the days, one of the girl’s was kind of down and I said, ‘Well, what’s going on?’ and she kind of started to unload. She felt she could trust me and she said, ‘You have to help us,'” the customer said.
“The poor girls were working in 30-degree weather inside sweating.”
The customer said he wrote an email to Subway corporate about a broken air conditioner he was told the franchise owner had refused to fix, as well as the other allegations.
Subway officials immediately fixed the broken air conditioner.
“At that time, none of the restaurant employees we spoke with supported the allegations made… We encouraged the employees to contact us and the Ministry of Labour should any issues around their compensation or working conditions arise,” Subway Canada said in a statement.
But the whistle-blowers told Global News they were never consulted.
As part of Subway’s current investigation, officials interviewed employees in both locations and reviewed prior inspection evaluations.
The customer who spoke out said he came across what appeared to be interviews being conducted by Subway officials and was appalled when he saw employees being questioned in plain sight of their boss.
“I’ve worked in retail for 30 years… we don’t use these practices nowadays because they’re not effective and these poor girls are not going to be honest if the owner is standing 15 feet away, glaring through the glass, looking at these girls,” the customer said.
Subway Canada said the Aldergrove franchise owner is cooperating, remaining off-site while the investigation continues, adding that if laws are found to be violated, it will take action up to and including termination of the franchise agreement.
“Subway restaurants are independently owned and operated. Many are family-run businesses, which provide employment and opportunities in communities across Canada and around the world,” Subway Canada development agent Margot Micallef said in a statement.
“Subway is proud of the values embraced and upheld by franchise owners and takes any allegations of misconduct extremely seriously.”
The Ministry of Labour said over the past five years, the majority of complaints from the fast food industry involve payment of regular wages, adding almost a third of the complaints the Employment Standards Branch gets from this sector are from workers who allege they weren’t paid regular wages.
Fraser Health said no infractions were found at either restaurant during recent inspections.