By Allen Brown
As a contracted or subcontracted worker, it can be difficult to hammer out such things as timelines and clients’ needs. Whether for construction, oil, or gas firms, there is never a complete guarantee that the people you are working with or for are going to have your best interests at heart. Especially in the case of compensation, it can be frustrating and stressful to deal with circumstances that result in being unpaid for all of your time and hard work. When doing work for large governmental bodies, it's easy to feel that you don’t have the resources or legal recourse to protect yourself; but that is just not the case. Workers are entitled to fair compensation and treatment and entitled to protect their inherent and codified rights. If you are a North American worker (Canadian or American) and find yourself being taken advantage of or treated unprofessionally, here is what you need to do to protect your rights.
The first step in any situation that involves multiple parties, perspectives, or differing interests, is proper communication. Before any work commences, you should be crystal clear on what is expected of you, and your client should be equally aware of what they are agreeing to provide you with. This should be inclusive of things like timelines, pay schedules, cost breakdowns, and safety clauses, just to name a few. Documentation is a must so that if things go sour, you have written and digital proof in the form of emails and contracts. These will better prepare you in case things escalate to a legally contentious level.
Though it may feel as if you’re fighting an uphill battle, or alone in your plight, the truth is there is an ample amount of legal precedent when it comes to legal rights for workers. One of the most helpful examples is found in Canadian legislation for cases of non-payment or dispute - it is the Builder’s Lien Act (similar to Florida's Construction Lien Law). This act details at length what these liens are, and how they are put into action. To break it down in a palatable way, a construction lien refers to a claim against a property made by a contractor or subcontractor in order to protect them from the risk of not being paid for services rendered. This act is in place to help with clarity and to prevent issues of fraud, non-payment, or other such matters of illegality or misconduct.
When you’re looking to protect your rights and interests in the workplace, it’s important to realize that time is of the essence. Though you have options at your disposal, if actions aren’t taken within specific timeframes, you often lose your leverage and your legal recourse. In the case of a lien claim, workers have 45 days to take further action before their time frame expires. This means filing the proper paperwork with 45 days of any project nearing completion. If you have tried to negotiate and have a paper trail, you are well-positioned to compel a developer to pay you the outstanding amounts. Plus, certain actions will extend the amount of time that you have to stake your claim. Since liens will affect any property sales or financing, owners will want to deal with any disputes quickly and efficiently.
If you’re thinking of, or have commenced legal proceedings, the best thing you can do is to get professional counsel. This will aid you in your decision-making, and help you achieve the resolution you desire. Since there are many ways in which your claim could be disputed, you must have legal advice and expertise on your side. Owners will want to kick-start the process of claimants having to prove their lien claims, so you must be ready to go and have the correct information at your disposal. In Canada, oil and gas liens often have to go through different, more complicated channels. This is due to the country’s ownership of the natural resources in question. These filings can be much more complex due to their involvement with the government itself rather than a private business entity. With complex procedures such as these, you should have the proper guidance to ensure your rights are competently safeguarded.
Nothing is more disheartening than having to fight for the things you are fairly owed. Thankfully, there are a lot of things that workers can do to stick up for their money and their rights. If you remember to properly communicate, familiarize yourself with your legal rights, and make sure you have the proper legal counsel to fight your case, you are well on your way to resolving your issues and defending yourself with dignity.
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