On May 29, 2019, the Northwest Territories tabled Bill 57, An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act to align with recent changes to certain statutory leaves in the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act, as well as to update certain provisions of the Employment Standards Act to better protect Northwest Territories workers.
New definitions in the Employment Standards Act
The Bill adds new definitions to the Employment Standards Act (ESA). These are as follows:
“Care” and “support”: these new definitions would apply to compassionate care leave and the new family caregiver leave (also known as critical illness leave). The definitions are to clarify that those types of leaves can be taken by an employee to broadly care for, or support a family member. The care or support does not need to be medical care that would be provided by a medical professional. This matches the federal definition and helps ensure that the NT leave provisions align with the federal Employment Insurance (EI) program.
“Family member”: this new definition matches the definition of “family member” in the EI Act. This definition includes individuals in a family-like relationship, regardless of their blood-relationship, which creates flexibility and ensures that people have access to the support and care they need.
“Critically ill adult“: means a person who is 18 years of age or older whose baseline state of health has significantly changed and whose life is at risk as a result of an illness or injury.
“Critically ill child“: means a person who is under 18 years of age whose baseline state of health has significantly changed and whose life is at risk as a result of an illness or injury.
What’s new or changed?
The new or amended requirements include:
- Extending the time of unpaid parental leave that an employee may take and further extending that time for parents who share the parental leave (referred to as parental sharing leave). This change increases the amount of parental leave that an employee may take to 61 weeks within a 78-week period. If a parent shares parental leave with another parent, they are entitled to take up to eight additional weeks, increasing the leave up to 69 weeks within an 86-week period.
- Extending the time of unpaid compassionate care leave that an employee may take. This change extends the amount of compassionate leave that an employee may take from eight weeks to 27 weeks each year.
- Introducing the family caregiver leave (critical illness leave) to allow eligible workers to take time off work to care for family members who are critically ill or injured. This new type of leave is not currently available and would provide up to 37 weeks of annual unpaid leave to provide care or support for a child who is critically ill or injured, and up to 17 weeks of annual unpaid leave to provide care or support for a family member who is critically ill or injured. If requested by the employer, the employee must provide a medical certificate confirming the critical illness.
- Introducing the family violence leave to allow victims of family violence to take time off work. This new type of leave is currently not available in the NT and would provide five days of paid and five days of unpaid annual domestic violence leave with an option of up to an additional 15 unpaid weeks of leave. This leave could be taken to seek medical attention, attend counselling or for a variety of other purposes.
What other change is included in the Bill and when does Bill 57 come into force?
Under the Northwest Territories Safety Act, youth workers are prohibited from being employed in certain industries, such as construction. The Bill includes changes to align with the Safety Act. An employer must ensure that a youth is not employed in any of the following areas:
(a) on a construction site;
(b) in a production process at a pulp mill, saw mill or woodworking establishment;
(c) in a production process at a smelter, foundry, refinery or metal processing or fabricating operation;
(d) in a confined space;
(e) in a forestry or logging operation;
(f) as an operator of powered mobile equipment, a crane or a hoist;
(g) where exposure to a chemical or biological substance is likely to endanger the health or safety of the youth;
(h) in power line construction or maintenance; or
(i) in any prescribed occupation found in Regulation.
When enacted, the new or amended provisions of the Employment Standards Act come into force on a day or days to be fixed by order of the Commissioner.
Bill 57 received second reading on June 5, 2019 and was sent to the Standing Committee on Social Development for review and possible amendments. The Bill has been in public consultation since June 20, 2019 and will end tomorrow Friday July 12.
With Bill 57 close to enactment in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut remains the last Canadian jurisdiction that has not yet tabled legislation to make similar changes to their statutory leaves under employment standards legislation.