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Am I owed lost commissions during office renovations? Add to ...

The Question

I have worked 20 years for a large company in travel retail. We are paid a base wage and earn commission on monthly sales. My principal workplace was rendered unusable and renovations are taking almost two months. In the interim, the staff have been assigned to two separate workplaces. This has resulted in virtually no way to attract new clients or to service existing clients. Our company is not willing to compensate us in any way for our lost sales commissions during these two pay periods. By the way, I have never had an increase in my base salary. I earn the same as someone who was hired last month. Is this legal?


George Cottrelle

Partner, Keel Cottrelle LLP, Toronto

Your employer’s renovation of your workplace does not change its legal obligations to perform the fundamental terms of your employment contract, in good faith. The company agreed (expressly or implicitly) to provide you with a suitable workplace and support systems, so that clients may engage your company’s services, and you are able to earn commission income, which forms most of your compensation. That arrangement presumably has been in place for your 20 years of employment.

The company scheduled a renovation, and failed to make reasonable alternative interim workplace arrangements to enable you to perform your job. This resulted in lower sales and a lower commission rate for you, and a substantial reduction in your compensation.

You should meet with HR, without concerns of reprisal, and confirm the problems the company has caused you, including financial stress, and advise that you are entitled to be compensated for lost income, and to be provided with a suitable alternative workplace to enable you to earn your normal compensation. Any uptick in your sales will increase the employer’s revenues and your commission income, which is a win/win. Regarding your base salary, your employer is not required to pay you more than it pays to newly hired employees. There is no legal requirement to increase your salary, except that as a commission salesperson, who works from your employer’s workplace, your base salary must be no less than the applicable minimum wage in your province.


Kyle Couch

President and CEO, Spectrum Organizational Development Inc., Toronto

Twenty years of service, and an emergency situation causes this sort of reaction? I think, before you consider legal advice, that you should consider pausing and reflecting on the career that you have built through this organization. Traditionally, a commissioned sales position is built up over time through strong relationships, and customer loyalty.

My sense is that you have not been as effective as you originally believed in this area as you find yourself missing out on business despite this minor bump in the road.

Perhaps you have overlooked this importance over the past two decades, in your sales pursuits, as well as your loyalty to your employer to support them through this situation.

Great salespeople relentlessly look forward, not behind, and thrive in the challenge of the sales environment. Get back to your roots on this. Focus on honing your skills for when you get back into your office.

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