HomeWork + BusinessWorkRights at workIf your employer asks you to do something concerning

If your employer asks you to do something concerning

Woman looking concerned as colleagues point to paper

As a worker, you have responsibilities that include doing the work you were hired to do and being loyal to your employer. But you don’t have to follow instructions that are unreasonable or unlawful. Learn your rights and options if your employer asks you to do something concerning.

What you should know

As a worker, you have a duty to perform the job you were hired to do. This includes anything in the job description (if there was one). It also includes anything you agreed to in your employment contract.

You must personally perform your job (unless your contract says differently).

Generally, you have a duty to work carefully and to do your job to the best of your ability.

As a worker, you owe a general duty of fidelity and good faith to your employer. Fidelity (or loyalty, as it’s often called) means you must:

  • act in the best interests of the employer
  • serve the employer faithfully
  • protect the employer’s confidential information

Related to the duty of loyalty is a worker’s duty to act in good faith. You must be honest in your dealings with your employer. You must avoid conflicts of interest (for example, not competing directly with the employer).

You must carry out any reasonable and lawful instructions of your employer, within the scope of your employment contract.

But you don’t have to follow unreasonable instructions. It would be unreasonable for your employer to ask you to do something outside your qualifications, abilities, or skill set. For example, it would be unreasonable if your employer asked you to operate a forklift when you’ve never been trained to use one.

As well, you don’t have to do anything unlawful. This includes something that is against the law. It also includes something that is dishonest based on company practice or policy, or something that is dangerous to the safety of workers.

Work out the problem

There are steps you can take if your employer asks you to do something you think may be unreasonable or unlawful.

Step 1. Get all the facts

Step 2. Explain your concerns

Step 3. Take steps to protect yourself

Step 1. Get all the facts

Make sure you’re fully aware of what your employer is asking you to do. If you have any doubts, ask them to restate their instruction. If it’s still unclear, try asking more specific questions.

Step 2. Explain your concerns

If you think your employer is open to discussion, try to reason with them. Explain the concerns you have for yourself, and for them.

Raising concerns with your boss can be stressful. We offer tips for talking with your employer.

Step 3. Take steps to protect yourself

If you decide to follow your employer’s instructions, you’re still responsible for your actions. You may face liability for any illegal acts you perform on the job. It’s important to take steps to protect yourself.

Although every work situation is different, here are some options to consider:

  • Send your employer an email restating their instruction. This may be enough to help them see it’s problematic.

  • Talk to a manager or human resources (if your workplace has an HR person).

  • Decline to carry out the ask, and explain your reason why.

  • Decline to carry out the ask, and resign. Sometimes an instruction is so concerning you may be better off leaving.

Who can help

If your employer asks you to do something unreasonable or unlawful, getting legal advice might help you decide what to do next.

Access Pro Bono logo
Lawyer Referral Service
Helps you connect with a lawyer for a free half-hour consult.
Call 1-800-663-1919Visit website
Access Pro Bono logo
Access Pro Bono Clinics
Volunteer lawyers provide free legal advice to people with limited means.
Call 1-877-762-6664Visit website
People's Law School logo, large
People’s Law School
See more options for free or low-cost legal help.
Visit website

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in April 2020
  • Time to read: 4 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Mary Thibodeau, Moore Edgar Lyster LLP

Mary Thibodeau, Moore Edgar Lyster LLP

Share this page

This information from People’s Law School explains in a general way the law that applies in British Columbia, Canada. The information is not intended as legal advice. See our disclaimer.


On Dial-A-Law

Dial-A-Law has more information on Rights at work in the section on Work.

Copyright 2022 People's Law School

We are grateful to work on the unceded traditional territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, whose Peoples continue to live on and care for these lands.