Protections for Nova Scotia retail workers

An opinion piece by the province’s Minister of Environment and Labour, including clarifications about Boxing Day

Recent discussions surrounding shopping regulations too often ignore the additional protection brought in for many workers in the retail sector.

In July, the government proclaimed amendments to the Labour Standards Code that protected workers in retail businesses that historically have been closed by law on uniform closing days — essentially Sundays and holidays.

The most notable effect of that legislation was that grocers operating a retail sales area greater than 4,000 square feet must offer their employees the right to refuse to work on Sundays and holidays. However, it also applies to some other retailers.

That has not changed one iota.

I know that recently there has been particular concern about Boxing Day. It is widely anticipated that retailers will open this Boxing Day, as they do in most other provinces, and workers fear they will be forced to work on a day they have traditionally spent with their families.

The Labour Standards Code and related legislation are complex — because the workplace is complex — but I can say in general that protections are in place for these workers.

With very few exceptions, retail workers who have not previously had to work on uniform closing days have a right to refuse to work on those days. If they have already been scheduled to work a uniform closing day, they need only provide seven days' notice to their employer of their decision to refuse. That includes Boxing Day.

Retail workers who have the right to refuse to work are protected against retaliation and can be ordered reinstated with back pay if their employment is terminated or reduced because they refuse.

That said, I would add that the Department of Environment and Labour has not received any such complaints to date, although we encourage workers who feel they are being treated unfairly to contact us.

With the exception of Remembrance Day, Nova Scotia has moved to a system where the market will decide what stores are open and when. It is important that employees and employers understand the rules.

If you have questions or complaints, please contact the Labour Standards Division of the Department of Environment and Labour at (902) 424-4311 (888) 315-0110.

Mark Parent is Nova Scotia's Minister of Environment and Labour.

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