Playing by the same rulebook

New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island harmonize rules for employee records, electronic pay statements

In an effort to make it easier for businesses to operate in more than one jurisdiction, Canada’s Maritime provinces will harmonize most of the rules for employee recordkeeping and electronic pay statements next year.

This spring, legislatures in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island passed amendments to labour standards laws to better align provisions covering records and pay statements. The changes will come into effect on Jan. 1.

The pay statement amendments will allow employers to give employees pay stubs electronically, as long as the employees have confidential access to them and a way to make a paper copy of them at work. While these rules already apply in P.E.I., current provisions in New Brunswick’s Employment Standards Act only require employers that want to use electronic statements to provide employees with confidential access to them. Nova Scotia currently has no labour standards rules governing electronic pay statements.

In making changes to the record-keeping rules, the provinces did not completely rewrite legislative provisions. Instead, they added or reworded requirements where necessary to make the majority the same across the three jurisdictions. For instance, once the amendments come into force, all of the provinces will specifically require employers to keep records on employee vacation dates, vacation pay due to be paid, statutory holiday pay due or paid and any period during which an employee was on a leave of absence.

While New Brunswick already specifies these records in its legislation, P.E.I. currently has no requirement for keeping records on leaves and neither P.E.I. nor Nova Scotia specify employers must keep records on statutory holiday pay. 

“These changes may sound small, but this is an area the business community has highlighted as overly difficult and complex,” said Kelly Regan, Nova’s Scotia’s minister of labour and advanced education. 

“Businesses operating in more than one Maritime province should not have to waste time figuring out which records need to be kept in which province; they should be the same,” she said during debate on the amendments in the Nova Scotia legislature.

“Today, while the requirements are similar in all three provinces, they are not the same. These differences can lead to confusion and an additional workload for employers. Some requirements are vague and have led to frustration and issues for both employers and employees,” Regan said.

“Aligning record-keeping requirements across the Maritimes will remove burdensome differences and save employers time and money. It just makes sense,” she added.

Business groups, such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce, say they are pleased with the changes, with the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce adding that there is “unanimous support” among its members for harmonized record-keeping requirements.

Not all of the record-keeping rules will be the same across all three provinces, though. Record-keeping rules that relate to labour standards requirements that are unique to a province will not be affected by the amendments.

For instance, P.E.I. requires employers to keep records on overtime hours employees accumulate and use. The requirement relates to provisions in the province’s Employment Standards Act that allow employees to bank overtime hours and take time off in lieu of overtime pay. Labour standards laws in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia do not address overtime banks, so there is no requirement to keep specific records on overtime hours.

In addition to harmonizing records and pay statements, the provinces are aligning the date they implement minimum wage changes. This year, both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia raised minimum wage rates on April 1. Beginning next year, P.E.I. will move its minimum wage changes to April 1.

“If the minimum wage is to change, that would take effect on the same date in the three provinces, so that will even things out in terms of doing business,” P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan told the provincial legislature in May.

“It doesn’t require the rate to be the same, but the date.”

The provinces have not announced whether they plan to further harmonize labour standards, although a spokesperson with the Nova Scotia government says more changes are possible. 

“Employment standards are high on the list to explore (for) alignment because the business community has identified it as a priority,” says Andrew Preeper, a media relations advisor with the province’s Department of Labour and Advanced Education.

While some requirements will likely be easy to harmonize since they are already the same or similar among the three jurisdictions, those that are different may be more challenging, as a cursory look at some of the rules shows:

Overtime

In Nova Scotia and P.E.I., employers have to pay employees overtime if they work more than 48 hours a week. In New Brunswick, the threshold is 44 hours.

The overtime rate in P.E.I. is 1.5 times an employee’s regular wage rate. In New Brunswick, it is 1.5 times the provincial minimum wage rate.

Nova Scotia uses a mix of both, depending on the type of work an employee does.

Maternity/parental leave

Employers in Nova Scotia and P.E.I. are required to give employees on maternity or parental leave the option of maintaining their benefits (such as health, dental, and life insurance) while they are off. There is no similar requirement in New Brunswick.

Sick leave

New Brunswick allows employees to take up to five days off, without pay, each year for sick leave if they have been employed by their employer for more than 90 days. Nova Scotia only allows for three days of unpaid sick leave, but has no qualifying period.

In P.E.I., employees may take up to three days off without pay each year for sick leave if they have worked for their employer for at least six months. Employees employed by their employer for at least five years are also entitled to take one day of paid sick leave each year.

Statutory holidays

Holidays in the three provinces are similar, but not identical.

New Brunswick does not have a statutory holiday in February, unlike Nova Scotia and P.E.I., although the government says it is considering creating one. T

he first Monday in August is a statutory holiday in New Brunswick, but not in the other two jurisdictions. Remembrance Day is a statutory holiday in New Brunswick and P.E.I., but not in Nova Scotia. The day is a holiday in Nova Scotia, but not under the Labour Standards Act, which means that employers do not have to pay employees who do not work on the holiday.

Payment requirements also vary among the jurisdictions, with each province having different rules for determining who is eligible to be paid for a statutory holiday and how to compensate employees who work on holidays.

Vacations

While the minimum amount of vacation time for employees is the same across all three provinces, rules around when employees must take their vacation differ.

In New Brunswick and P.E.I., employers must make sure employees take their vacation within four months of becoming entitled to it. In Nova Scotia, the requirement is 10 months.

Employees in Nova Scotia and P.E.I. are allowed to waive their vacation time (but not vacation pay) if they work less than 90 per cent of the employer’s regular working hours in the 12 months when they earn the vacation. New Brunswick’s Employment Standards Act does not address waivers.

Termination of employment

All of the provinces have graduated required notice periods for employers ending an employment relationship, but the parameters for them differ.

For example, an employee with 10 years of service is entitled to four weeks’ notice in New Brunswick, six weeks in P.E.I., and eight weeks in Nova Scotia. New Brunswick does not require employees to give notice if they quit. Both Nova Scotia and P.E.I. mandate notice, but the requirements differ. In Nova Scotia, employees with three months to less than two years of service have to give their employer one week of written notice. Those employed for two or more years must provide at least two weeks’ notice. In P.E.I., one week of written notice applies to employees with between six months to less than five years of service, while those with five or more years must provide at least two weeks’ notice. When considering further harmonization measures, Preeper says the governments will focus on changes that all stakeholders support and that can be done in a relatively short timeframe. 

“We understand that some areas of employment standards are very unique to provinces. We want to align standards where it makes sense, where the benefit to businesses is the greatest while maintaining all protections for employees,” he says.

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