Nova Scotia proposes emergency leave for workers

Labour code amendments would protect workers' jobs during national disaster or public health emergency

New legislation would protect employees from losing their jobs during a public emergency in Nova Scotia.

The provincial government has proposed amendments to the Labour Standards Code that would allow workers to take an unpaid leaving during a national disaster or public health risk to attend to their needs or help a family member.

"No one should have to worry about losing their job during a public emergency," said Minister of Labour and Workforce Development Marilyn More. "I believe these amendments strike a balance that provides employees with the flexibility they need to deal with emergency situations without putting undue financial pressures on the employer."

Employers' and employees' emergency leave rights and responsibilities would be similar to parental or maternity leaves. At the end of an unpaid emergency leave, employers must take the employee back without loss of benefits or seniority. Employers may ask an employee to provide proof of eligibility for an unpaid leave.

If an employer does not take an employee back, the employee could file a complaint with the Department of Labour and Workforce Development. Complaints would be investigated. Possible remedies include reinstating the employee or financial compensation. Unionized employees would follow collective agreement grievance procedures.

Unpaid emergency leaves would be available during public emergencies declared under Nova Scotia's Emergency Management Act, Canada's Emergencies Act, an order or directive of a medical officer of health under the Health Protection Act or by government regulation. Under the Nova Scotia Emergency Management Act, a municipality may declare a state of local emergency, which would qualify as a public emergency.

"Our first goal is to protect people," said More. "An unpaid leave option could stop people from coming to work and infecting colleagues with a disease such as H1N1. Following a hurricane or other natural disaster, people would not need to take unnecessary risks to travel to their workplace."

Ontario has an emergency leave provision and Alberta has a similar option for health emergencies.

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