I am trying to navigate a really nasty scenario with my current employer, and am hoping there is a professional tactic or approach that won't require consulting with a lawyer, as I'm pretty much broke right now.
I signed on about two years ago with a large company in Canada, and did a coop/internship with them about four years ago when I was finishing up my Bachelor's degree program. At the time when I did my coop with them, it seemed like a great company. However, the past two years as a regular employee have been brutal.
Apparently bonuses and raises have been cancelled for the past several years, and the CEO has sent out disparaging remarks and insults via e-mail to the company. About a year ago, a new policy was forcibly implemented that I believe amounts to constructive dismissal and/or a unilateral contract change.
Employees may not work or engage in business for a different company or entity – with or without compensation – unless Company XYZ's CEO has authorized an exception in writing.
John and I – and everyone else across the company – expect the best from each of you. And if your focus isn’t 100% on Company XYZ, you’re not helping. You may even be getting in the way of our success – especially if you divert your work-related developments or potential business opportunities elsewhere.
Company XYZ's position regarding any form of external employment or side-business (including self-employment) is that it is not permitted, whether or not a conflict of interest exists.
Every year, all employees must re-sign the "Business Standards and Principles" (BS&P) document, or face dismissal/firing. The document itself has things which are ethics-related and basically common sense for business, such as no insider trading, don't steal other peoples lunches, don't use office stationery and laptops for personal use, don't play video games while you're supposed to be working, don't be a bigot, etc. These policies seem reasonable.
However, last year, a few employees were caught working for a competitor, so a new massive change has been made to the BS&P, where employees are not allowed ANY side work or unpaid/volunteer work without the legal team's approval and the CEO's signature. The wording is very explicit: even volunteering to coach my little girl's soccer team is in breach of the new policy, and the policy allows the company to fire people on the spot without notice/severance pay if "caught". If we didn't sign the new BS&P, we would either be fired, possibly without severance, unless we agreed to allowing the company to have new powers and ways to fire us, without severance.
While this isn't a change to my formal employment contract, it does indeed equate to an "effective change" to it, since we are figuratively held at gunpoint to sign the new document every year. I do a bit of volunteer web site design for the local office of a political party, and also do some commercial web site design on the side to help pay the bills, as the salary with this employer isn't that great, but I jumped at the chance to work with them years ago since they had such a great reputation in my eyes.
This policy will force me to disclose my political affiliations to numerous people in my company. Is it my employer's right to know everything I do? Also, it seems to directly state that the company owns me 24/7, but I'm only paid for 40 hours per week, not the 168 hours in a standard week.
Are there any regulatory agencies or groups this can be reported to, in hopes that they can step in and improve the work environment for the company, or is this the kind of thing where I either quit or hire a lawyer to fight the company? I would think that by forcing us to re-sign or be fired would be a very cut-and-dry instance of abusive practices and policies by the employer.
After reviewing the provided answers, I found out that there were some labor law offices only a 30 minute drive away, and have already booked a 2 hour consultation for $150, which is great for me. I'll be focusing more on the non-compete agreement's enforceability primarily, as the comments here have convinced me the employer is a lost cause as a viable place of employment. Thank you for the help!
I had an initial consultation with a labor law specialist who noted that at least in my case, the non-compete is unenforceable, as I have a right to earn a wage and not be forced into unemployment for a year. As for the contract changes, I could likely get a fair bit of momentum if I went the class-action route, but the money the company pays out if it loses is more about punishing the employer than compensating the employees/victims.
My advised solution thus far is to find new work unless I plan to take legal action against my employer. I have neither the time nor the money for that, so I'm going to start using every spare moment when I'm off the clock to find new work. I wonder if I have to report this effort as "outside work" to my employer.
I'm handing in my resignation letter at the end of July if I can. As luck would have it (seriously), a friend identified me pretty quickly as she also uses SO, joined my efforts, and we're both aiming to hand in our resignation by the end of July. There are plenty of other companies to work for in this neighbourhood, so it's time to burn up those sick days.
It turns out a number of places are hiring in the area for junior techies, and I scored a couple interviews already. Thanks everyone for the support!
Update #5 - Final
I've found an employer in another country willing to take me on, so I'm in luck, since that'll take care of my non-compete concerns. I'll be starting in a few months, but the written offer is already in hand, so I can just use up my vacation days and get ready to start over. Thanks all!