Employment standards changes on horizon

Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, Yukon looking at legislative change

This year is shaping up to be a busy year for employment standards changes across Canada. Here is a look at some possible revisions that could be coming:

Alberta: The Alberta government is reviewing the province’s Employment Standards Code and accompanying regulations. In announcing the review, Thomas Lukaszuk, minister of jobs, skills, training and labour, said the government wants to make sure the legislation is meeting the needs of today’s workforce. The deadline for providing feedback is April 11.

The province has posted an online discussion guide called Talking about Work on the ministry’s website to get public feedback on a number of topics, including hours of work and overtime, vacations, general holidays, terminations, exemption permits and whether the code should deal with internships.

It also asks whether the code should include more types of unpaid leaves. In February, the province expanded its list of unpaid leaves to include compassionate care leave. The guide asks for feedback on whether to include bereavement leave, sick leave, leave for jury duty, emergency leave for urgent personal matters, leave for organ donations and leaves for parents whose child is critically ill or who has died or disappeared because of a suspected crime.

It also seeks input on whether 12 to 14 year-olds should be allowed to work in more types of jobs, including limited retail sales, some restaurant and food services, light cleaning or janitorial work and as ushers and cleaners in cinemas.

Another area of consultation is whether to eliminate a section in the code that allows employers to apply for a permit to pay a person with a disability less than minimum wage.

New Brunswick: Last month, the provincial legislature passed a bill that will add two new unpaid leaves to the Employment Standards Act once it comes into force. One leave allows employees who are parents of a critically ill child to take up to 37 weeks off work to provide care or support for the child. The other leave permits employees who are parents of a child who has disappeared or died because of a suspected crime to take up to 37 weeks off work. Since 2013, when the federal government began providing financial support for parents in these types of situations, most jurisdictions have amended their employment standards laws to allow for these leaves.

Bill 21 also includes provisions to protect foreign workers. Employers who recruit foreign workers or hire someone to do the recruiting for them will have to register with the Director of Employment Standards. The bill will also prohibit employers from recovering any costs they incur to recruit foreign workers beyond those that are allowed. In addition, the bill will forbid employers from holding an employee’s personal documents, such as a passport.

Another bill passed in March, but not yet in force, will make directors of for-profit corporations liable, along with the corporation, for wages owing to staff.

Ontario: The Legislative Assembly is currently considering three government bills that affect employment standards. Bill 21 would allow for four new unpaid leaves. There would be an eight-week leave for employees who need time off to care for a family member with a serious medical condition. A 37-week leave would be available for parents who need to care for a critically ill child. Parents would also be allowed to take up to 52 weeks off work if their child goes missing because of a suspected crime and up to 104 weeks off if their child dies because of a suspected crime.

Bill 146 would increase protection for workers, including employees working for temporary help agencies. It would make clients jointly and severally liable with temporary help agencies for unpaid wages owing to assignment employees.

The bill would also require all employers covered by the Employment Standards Act, 2000, to provide each of their employees with a copy of the labour ministry’s most up-to-date information poster on employment standards.

In addition, the bill would eliminate a $10,000 cap that currently applies on the amount of unpaid wages an employee can recover from an employer. The maximum timeframe for recovering wages would increase from six- and 12-month periods to two years.

Bill 165 would index the provincial minimum wage rate to Ontario’s CPI, beginning Oct. 1, 2015.

Saskatchewan: The Saskatchewan Employment Act, which is expected to take effect this year, will consolidate 12 labour-related laws, including The Labour Standards Act, into one. The new act will also change some employment standards rules, including the following:

• Two types of work arrangements would be allowed: eight hours a day for five days a week and 10 hours a day for four days per week. Employers would have to pay overtime if employees worked more than the daily maximum hours or more than 40 hours a week (unless an employee is working under a modified work arrangement or an averaging authorization).
• Banking of overtime hours would be permitted.
• The eligibility period for maternity, parental and adoption leaves would be reduced from 20 weeks of service to 13 weeks.
• Five new leaves would be allowed: a 26-week organ donation surgery leave, a 37-week leave for an employee with a critically ill child, a 52-week leave for an employee whose child has disappeared because of a suspected crime, a 104-week leave for an employee whose child has died as a result of a suspected crime, and a one-day leave to attend a citizenship ceremony.
• Employers would be required to pay vacation pay on an employee’s normal payday or, if the employee requested it, before the vacation. Currently, employers must pay it 14 days before the vacation begins.
• The provincial minimum wage rate would be indexed to inflation.
• Employers would be allowed to provide employees with electronic pay statements as long as employees could print them.
• Employees who wish to quit would have to provide at least two weeks’ written notice if they worked for their employer for at least 13 consecutive weeks.

Yukon: The territorial government is considering changes affecting leaves and terminations. Late last year, it asked for public feedback on:

• increasing the maximum length of an unpaid leave for an employee whose child is missing because of a suspected crime from 35 weeks to 52 weeks, and from 35 weeks to 104 weeks for a child who has died because of a suspected crime
• reducing the number of months (currently 12) that an employee must work for an employer before being eligible to take leaves related to a critically ill child or to the death or disappearance of a child
• lowering the threshold at which notice of termination is required from six months of employment to three months.

The government is now reviewing the input it received.

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