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Keeping apprised of changes to employment legislation

Understanding and keeping up with legislative changes

By Brian Kreissl

With the ever-increasing legal and regulatory burden on employers and the sheer volume of amendments to employment legislation, HR practitioners need current, reliable and credible resources to help them keep up to date with changes to employment legislation. This is particularly important in organizations that operate across multiple jurisdictions.

There are three main types of legislation in Canada — statutes, regulations and municipal by-laws. Statutes, also referred to as “acts” (or “codes” in some cases), are pieces of primary legislation passed by the federal Parliament and provincial/territorial legislatures. Regulations are secondary pieces of legislation enabled by statutes and issued by the relevant government ministries.

Employers need to be proactive in keeping on top of legislative developments in the jurisdictions they operate within. They also need easy access to plain language interpretation of statutes and regulations impacting the employment landscape.

While there are excellent publications from content providers like Thomson Reuters, there are also some free resources that can help. These include government ministries, law, accounting and consulting firms, professional associations, Service Canada, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) and various news outlets (including Canadian HR Reporter). Some of those organizations provide e-mail updates through RSS (rich site summary) feeds or other means.

Overview of the legislative process

I have seen several situations where articles and press releases simply stated: “The government has introduced legislation to…” This caused quite a bit of confusion among HR practitioners about whether or not a piece of legislation was actually in force.

After all, what does “introduced” mean in this context? Does that simply mean the government has begun the process or has the legislation already become law?

One suggestion that might help is to have a basic understanding of how a bill becomes law. Prior to a statute becoming law, it is referred to as a bill. A bill will normally go through several stages on its way to becoming law.

These include a first reading in the legislature, followed by a second reading and a debate, a committee stage, if applicable, where the committee examines the bill in detail, then a third reading in which the final debate of the bill is conducted and the bill is voted on one last time.

If the bill is passed by the legislature, it is given Royal Assent (meaning that the Lieutenant Governor signs and approves the bill). Some bills come into force immediately upon Royal Assent, whereas other bills come into force on a date specified in the bill itself. Still others will come into force at a later date to be fixed by proclamation (something which is usually published in the Gazette, which is a publication containing government notices).

The legislative process in the federal Parliament is broadly similar to that in the provincial legislative assemblies, except that Parliament is known as a bicameral legislature, meaning that it has both a lower house (the House of Commons) and an upper house (the Senate), whereas the provincial and territorial legislatures are unicameral.

A federal bill must therefore go through the same basic process of first, second, third readings and the committee stage in both the Senate and the House of Commons, prior to obtaining Royal Assent and becoming law. While most bills originate in the House of Commons, a bill other than one which spends or collects public money can be introduced in either House.

Some latest developments in employment legislation across Canada

While there is no way I could list all of the latest developments in employment legislation across the country, the following are a few examples of some pending, proposed, future and newly in-force legislation employers should be aware of:

Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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