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Writing a letter to your employer

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Honest. Concise. Clear. It’s often much easier to be these things in writing than face-to-face. We offer tips on how to write a strong letter to your employer.

What you should know

There are different ways to bring an issue forward. How you choose to proceed (whether face-to-face conversation, letter, more formal complaint, or a combination of these) will depend on the nature of the issue, the kind of job you have, and, frankly, what works.

An employer doesn’t have grounds to fire you for just cause raising a workplace issue, making a request, or bringing a complaint. If you get fired for raising a discrimination, harassment, or workplace safety issue, there are laws in place to help you.

But at any time, as long as they give you enough advance notice or severance pay, an employer can end your employment without cause. What’s enough notice depends on what’s written in your employment contract — or the minimum you’re entitled to by law. (Sometimes, this can be based on how long you’ve worked somewhere.)

Raising a concern or making a request shouldn’t put your job in jeopardy. Unfortunately, some bosses are short-tempered and don’t react well to requests.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for that raise or promotion. But it does mean you should be strategic about how you ask, and when.

Write the letter

There are a handful of smart steps to take in writing a letter to your boss.

Step 1. Know the process

Step 2. Prepare

Step 3. Write the letter

Step 4. Follow up

Step 1. Find out the process

Whether you’re raising a concern or asking for something, find out if your workplace has a process to follow. There may be forms to complete and specific channels to go through.

Ask the advice of others who have been through this before. Is there anything they’d have done differently? Be strategic with your internal conversations — your goal is to gather information, not to air grievances (yet).

Step 2. Pull your thoughts and paperwork together

Before you write the letter, brainstorm and gather supporting documents. These might include HR policies, emails about the incident in question, external salary surveys, and so on. Ask yourself: How am I going to convince this person to come around to my side?

Build your case. If there was a specific incident, write down the date and place it happened, how it made you feel, and who witnessed it.

Think hard about the outcome you want. How do you hope your employer responds? Consider suggesting two options to solve this. That way, even if they choose your Plan B, you’ll have come out ahead.

Step 3. Write your letter

Here’s a walkthrough.

  • Explain the issue. Stick to the facts. Dates are important. Be brief, but spell it out. For example, if you haven’t been paid, say how much you think your employer owes you.
  • Explain briefly the issue’s impact on you. Describe how it has made you feel. Avoid attacking your employer or other staff.

  • Describe the steps you’ve taken so far. If you tried to resolve the situation informally first, mention that and say what the outcome was.

  • Suggest a solution. Say as clearly as you can what steps must be taken to make things work for you. Again, suggesting several alternatives can be a savvy tactic. If you want an investigation to take place into your complaint, make this request clear.

  • Ask for a response by a certain date. For example, I’m hoping to see some progress on this by (X date). Generally, one week is a reasonable timeline.

Make sure your letter is dated and signed. Include copies of any supporting evidence with your letter. Keep a copy for yourself.

We offer a template you can fill out yourself. See our template letter to deal with a problem at work.

Step 4. Follow up

If the date you said you’d appreciate a response by comes and goes, check in again. Be brief and to the point. If you check in verbally, also confirm the check in by email. This record of the discussion may be helpful down the road.

Who can help

As a worker, there are agencies you can reach out to with questions about your rights.

BC government logo, for use on cards such as Employment Standards Branch
Employment Standards Branch
The government office that deals with complaints against employers in BC.
Call 1-800-663-3316Visit website
Employment and Social Development Canada logo
Employment and Social Development Canada
They can help if you work in a federally-regulated industry.
Call 1-800-641-4049Visit website
WorkSafeBC logo
WorkSafeBC
Can help if you want to report an unsafe workplace
Call 1-888-621-7233Visit website
BC Human Rights Tribunal logo
BC Human Rights Tribunal
Deals with discrimination complaints.
Call 1-888-440-8844Visit website

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed in March 2020
  • Time to read: 4 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Jonas McKay, HHBG Lawyers and Richard Johnson, Ascent Employment Law

Jonas McKay, HHBG Lawyers
Richard Johnson, Ascent Employment Law

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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.

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