Manitoba ‘flexes’ legislation

Proposed law would allow employers to help employees achieve work-life balance
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 06/05/2011

Manitoba has introduced legislation that would make it easier for businesses to introduce flexible work hours to help employees achieve better work-life balance.

“Over the years, we’ve heard from many employees that they want it and many employers saying they want to be able to provide that flexibility to their employees but our legislation didn’t allow it,” said Dave Dyson, executive director for Manitoba’s employment standards branch.

Under current legislation in the province, the standard hours of work are eight hours in a day and 40 hours in a week. When the needs of a business cannot be accommodated within these standards, employers can apply to the director of the employment standards branch for a permit to average the standard hours of work across a specific number of weeks, such as 12-hour days, four days in a row. However, these new hours apply to the entire workplace.

If the new legislation is passed, employers will be able to enter into agreements with individual employees to come up with flex-time arrangements that allow them to better balance work and home life.

“This is going to be hugely well-received by employers and employees,” said Dyson. “If they have a doctor’s appointment and want to make it up the next day, as long as both parties agree, they can do that and the employer won’t face any overtime liability.”

The agreement — which must be written and kept on file with the employer — can extend up to 10 hours in a day and must average 40 hours in a week, said Dyson.

Previously, employers may have entered into these agreements with employees but it was technically against the law, he said. If someone had a doctor’s appointment and made up the missed time the next day, it would put the employer at risk because it would be entering an overtime situation for that day, said Dyson.

“If you have 100 employees and this comes to light, the financial liability of that employer is quite large,” he said. “(The proposed legislation) eliminates that liability an employer may have been incurring, intentionally or not.”

When drafting a flex-time agreement with an employee, the employer must be very clear on just how flexible it can be and identify the limitations so operational needs can still be met, said Dwayne Burdeniuk, principal and lead consultant at Sun Runner HR Solutions in Salmon River, B.C.

“A common flex-time application is the ability to pre-bank hours, so work an extra hour here and there and then draw upon that bank when needed,” said Burdeniuk. “It could be things like a half a day off for a child’s event or an extension on a weekend.”

And flex-time arrangements may not work for all employees. It’s important to take it on a case-by-case basis and give a good explanation — such as legislative obligations or department requirements — as to why flex-time is not an option, he said.

The proposed legislation is something employers in the province are welcoming, said Gerry Sul, chief corporate services officer at the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission (MLCC) in Winnipeg.

“It provides the ability to explore and develop more creative ways to meet the demands of the employees out there,” he said. “It will streamline the ability for employers to introduce these options and look for win-win opportunities for both the employer and employee at the end of the day.”

If the legislation is passed, Sul said he wants to explore the option of core time at MLCC. This would take the shape of a certain time frame where employees must be present, such as between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and they could work whatever eight-hour shift suited them as long as it overlapped with the core time, said Sul, whose organization has about 950 employees across the province.

“So the person who likes to sleep in will elect later hours and, vice versa, the early bird will get here first thing in the morning and the employer will benefit from them coming in when they are the most productive,” he said.

Along with an increase in productivity, employers are also likely to see happier, more motivated staff by offering flex-time arrangements, said Burdeniuk.

“If the staff see their employer is open to ideas that improve their life, they are more likely to try and come up with ideas for improving the business for the employer,” he said.

Flex-time can also play an important role in recruitment, said Burdeniuk. In his experience, about three-quarters of potential candidates ask about flex-time and say it makes an organization more attractive.

It is also a critical element in an organization’s retention strategy and, nowadays, is a benefit that cannot be ignored, said Sul.

“Employers need to support individual needs or they risk losing valuable employees,” he said. “One thing is for sure, the employee demand for flex-time is not a fad.”

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