Alberta Employment and Labour Law Reforms Passed

On June 7, 2017, outside of House sitting, Bill 17, Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act received royal assent. This means effective January 1, 2018, most of the new rules updating employment and labour law in union and non-union Alberta workplaces will come into force. Other provisions will come into effect when the Act receives Royal Assent. However, the youth employment provisions which will only come into effect on proclamation and will probably be at a later date to allow consultations on the regulations defining hazardous and light work. The essential services changes come into force effective May 25, 2017. The new certification, revocation, and Judicial Review changes come into force on September 1, 2017. The application of the Labour Relations Code to farm and ranch employees and dependent contractors comes into force on January 1, 2018.

Where a collective agreement is in effect on January 1, 2018, the new standards of the Employment Standards Code (sections 6 to 67) will not come into effect until the earlier of January 1, 2019 or the date of a new collective agreement.

A recap of the upcoming changes to the Employment Standards Code and Labour Relations Code with amendments include:

  • Introduction of new job protected leaves and increased maternity, parental and compassionate care leave entitlements
    • Maternity leave will increase from 15 weeks to 16 weeks and the amount of time an employee must be employed to be entitled to parental leave will decrease from 52 weeks to 90 days;
    • Compassionate care leave will increase from 8 weeks to 27 weeks and will have more employee friendly qualification conditions, including a reduction in the period of employment required to qualify for this leave and expanding coverage to individuals other than the primary caregiver;
    • New job protected leaves will be implemented, including: Long-term Illness and Injury leave (up to 16 weeks), Domestic Violence leave (up to 10 days per year), Critical Illness of Child leave (up to 36 weeks), Death or Disappearance of a Child leave (up to 52 weeks or 104 weeks), Personal and Family Responsibility leave (up to 5 days per year), Bereavement leave and Citizenship Ceremony leave (up to 1/2 day per year).

Additional amendments to leave requirements made after Bill 17 was proposed:

a) When it comes to compassionate care leave, death or disappearance of child leave, critical illness of child leave and long-term illness and injury leave, Bill 17 originally stated that if an employee has been on such a leave, he or she must provide at least 48 hours’ written notice of the date the employee intends to return to work unless the employer and the employee agree otherwise. However, due to amendments to Bill 17, which were made on May 31, 2017, the employee must provide at least 1 week’s written notice of the date the employee intends to return to work unless the employer and the employee agree otherwise.

b) Due to June 5, 2017 amendments, when it comes to compassionate care leave, critical illness of child leave and long-term illness and injury leave, the requirement that an employee provide to the employer a medical certificate “issued by a physician” was struck out because it recognizes that “other health professionals are providing services to Albertans, critical services, and in some areas of the province nurse practitioners and other health professionals as well.”

c) Due to June 5, 2017 amendments, the term “medical certificate” in the Employment Standards Code was repealed and replaced to mean: “a statement signed by a physician who is entitled to practise medicine under the laws of the jurisdiction in which the physician practises or by a member of another health profession authorized by the regulations for the purpose of this clause.”

  • Overtime and hours of work

Overtime agreements which provide for time off with pay instead of overtime pay will bank overtime at a rate of 1.5 hours for each overtime hour rather than banking hours at straight time. Hours billed pursuant to an overtime agreement will be able to be taken within 6 months of when they were banked, as opposed to the current 3 month limitation. If applicable to a group of employees, compressed work week agreements must be part of a collective agreement or be implemented with the consent of the majority of the employees.

  • Expanding employee eligibility for statutory holiday pay

Employee eligibility for general holiday pay will be relaxed by eliminating the previous requirement of a specified period of employment prior to the holiday and the requirement that the holiday fall on a normal work day for the employee.

  • Youth employment

Increases in the restrictions in employing youth and stronger enforcement mechanisms for contraventions of the Employment Standards Code by employers.

  • Elimination of secret ballot

Elimination of secret ballot union certification votes in circumstances where a union has obtained signed membership cards from 66 percent or more of the would be bargaining unit. If between 40% and 65% of employees sign union cards, a secret vote would then be required to certify a union. However, if greater than 65% of employees sign cards in favour of a union, such a vote is not required to take place and certification will be automatic.

  • Certification campaigns

Extending the maximum period of unionization campaigns from 90 days to 6 months;

  • Unfair labour practice

Upon an allegation of non-compliance, employers will bear the onus to prove that their actions, including termination of someone’s employment, are compliant with the Labour Relations Code.

  • Addition of dependent contractors

Confirmation that both employees and dependent contractors are entitled to union protection under the Labour Relations Code. The definition of “employee” under the Code will be expanded such that unions will now be able to represent “dependent contractors” who work for one employer.

Amendments to Bill 148 include:

A reference to “dependent contractor” was added to the definition of “employees” under the Labour Relations Code. This amendment clarifies the intention contained in the rest of the Bill to include dependent contractors under the Labour Relations Code.

Other amendments include:

  • Employers whose primary operations are the provision of laboratory diagnostic services under a contract with a regional health authority are included in the essential services provisions of the Labour Relations Code. Professional corporations under the Health Professions Act whose primary operations are the provision of laboratory diagnostic services are exempted from this provision.
  • The deletion of section 139 of the Labour Relations Code. Section 139 will therefore remain and permits employees of a party (usually unions) to be a nominee on an arbitration board unless that person is directly affected by the matter under arbitration or has been involved in an attempt to negotiate or settle the difference.
  • A clarification was added that an Employment Standards appeal may be filed and served when the Director cancels an Averaging Agreement.
  • A power was added to determine by Regulation when the group termination notice requirements will not apply.

Takeaways for employers

Employers have six months to consider these new Employment Standards Code and Labour Relations Code rules and implement any necessary changes or new requirements to their HR practices, policies and procedures, collective agreement and payroll system to ensure compliance.

For help with implementations of new or changed Employment Standards Code and Labour Relations Code rules in relation to HR policies and practices, consider consulting First Reference products.

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