HR Rulebook (Oct. 8, 2001)<br> Legislation update

B.C. addresses NDP past, other governments implement same-sex benefits.

While the summer is generally a slow time for lawmakers (legislative assemblies are usually in recess), some jurisdictions have been busy over the last few months. Here’s a summary of new legislation relevant to HR professionals.


Amendments have been made to the Canada Labour Code regulations regarding bereavement leave. The changes extend the list of relatives for whom employees can take bereavement leave to include certain relatives of same-sex partners.


With the proclamation of the Regulated Accounting Profession Act, all three accounting professions (chartered accountants, certified management accountants and certified general accountants) are now governed under one piece of legislation. The act also contains new regulations for the self-governing bodies of those professions.

British Columbia

There has been a virtual whirlwind of legislative activity in B.C. since the new Liberal government was sworn into office on June 5. The major piece of new HR legislation is Bill 18, the Skills Development and Labour Statutes Amendment Act, 2001, which was passed on Aug. 16. Key aspects of Bill 18 include:
•restoring education as an essential service under the Labour Code, as it was until 1993. Teachers still have the right to strike, but the Labour Relations Board may designate what services must continue during a strike or lockout to prevent immediate and serious disruption to education;
•ensuring workers have the right to a secret ballot vote on certification under the Labour Code as they do on decertification;
•reinstating the right to negotiate contracts independently by outlawing sectoral bargaining; and
•restoring workers’ rights to their pensions by repealing 1999 amendments to the Pension Benefits Standards Act that allowed some pension plans to suspend pension benefits for early retirees who chose to continue working in their previous field of employment.

In addition, the new government repealed the amendments to the Human Rights Code adding pay equity. (Those provisions had not yet taken effect.) That doesn’t mean that pay equity is a dead issue: an independent task force has been appointed to review the “options, models, costs and effectiveness” of private sector pay equity legislation. It is slated to report back to the legislature by next February.

A committee has also been given until Oct. 31 to recommend how best to implement environmental tobacco smoke regulations in the workplace.


Bill 41, An Act to Comply with the Supreme Court of Canada Decision in M. v. H., was passed on July 6. The Supreme Court delivered its decision in M. v. H. in May 1999. It declared certain provisions in Ontario’s Family Law Act invalid as being contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms because they denied certain rights and obligations to same-sex conjugal relationships that were afforded to heterosexual common-law relationships. In response to that decision, Manitoba amended certain laws dealing with support and pension and death benefits (as other provinces have done) to comply with M. v. H.

The amendments to the Pension Benefit Act contained in Bill 41 come into force on Jan. 1, 2002. At that time, these changes will take effect:
•“common-law spouse” will be changed to “common-law partner” to cover both same-sex and opposite-sex couples;
•if neither individual is married to anyone else, cohabitation for one year will create a common-law partnership. If either individual is married, cohabitation for three years will be required;
•a common-law partner cohabiting with the plan member at the date of the member’s death will be entitled to pre-retirement and post-retirement death benefits ahead of other beneficiaries; and
•same-sex common-law partners will be entitled to claim a division of the pension on the dissolution of the common-law relationship, as long as the plan member has submitted a declaration to the plan administrator that the partner is to have pension division rights. The partner will have priority over a legally married spouse who received or was entitled to receive a division of the pension on separation.

New Brunswick

The minimum wage increased to $5.90/hour as of July 1.


Bill 16, An Act to Amend the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act was passed and will take effect on Jan. 1, 2002. It requires employers to be more proactive in promoting accident prevention at the workplace.

Employers with fewer than 10 employees must establish a health and safety policy, which must be posted in a prominent place, and provide pay and training for a worker health and safety representative.

Employers with at least 10 employees must establish an occupational health and safety regime in the workplace, provide training and pay for co-chairpersons (if there are between 10 and 49 employees) or members (if there are at least 50 employees) of the occupational health and safety committee.

Newfoundland has launched a workplace safety training initiative to help employers and workers understand and comply with the new law.

Nova Scotia

Revised regulations under the Pension Benefits Act took effect on June 4. They deal primarily with the division of pension entitlements on the breakdown of a spousal relationship. Note that “spouse” was also changed to “common-law partner” to include same-sex and opposite-sex common-law relationships. Other significant changes include:
•pensions in pay may now be divided;
•division can be effected by means of a separation agreement or by court order;
•special rules for division of defined contribution plan entitlements are created, including a method to enable immediate settlement;
•a value-added approach is used for defined benefit plan entitlements to enable non-member spouses to share in improvements to the member’s pension that occur after separation and before the member retires; and
•administrators can charge fees to offset the cost of administering pension division.


The majority of the Employment Standards Act, 2000 changes came into effect on Sept. 4. (The provisions extending pregnancy and parental leave to up to one year were already in force.) Here is a list of those changes:
•where a business has at least 50 employees, workers are eligible for up to ten days of unpaid emergency leave per year;
•employees can agree in writing to longer daily and weekly work hours (up to 60 hours a week) without the employer first having to get Ministry of Labour approval;
•employees can take time off at the rate of 1.5 hours for each hour of overtime worked instead of overtime pay, if they and their employers agree in writing;
•if both the employer and the employee agree in writing, the employee’s hours of work can be averaged over a maximum period of four weeks for purposes of determining whether overtime pay is due. The ministry doesn’t have to sanction this agreement;
•employees are, with the employer’s consent, able to use vacation time by the day or in week-long blocks, rather than merely being able to take vacation in minimum one-week blocks;
•employees must have at least 11 consecutive hours off in a 24-hour period, as well as 24 consecutive hours off each week or 48 consecutive hours off every two weeks.;
•where possible, employees can work out flexible work arrangements to help them balance responsibilities at home and on the job;
•more employees, including part-time workers, are eligible for holiday pay on a pro-rated basis; and
•employers must post in workplaces Ministry of Labour documents outlining employer and employee rights and obligations under the act.

Ontario also released a consultation paper concerning surplus distribution from defined benefit pension plans on July 18. Stakeholders were invited to make submissions by Sept. 14. The paper suggested, among other things, ways to distribute surplus on full and partial plan wind-up, and to treat surplus in continuing plans (that is, surplus withdrawals and contribution holidays). The submissions will help develop rules for surplus distribution.

Saskatchewan, the Yukon Territory and the Northwest Territories

These three jurisdictions increased parental leave provisions over the summer to accord with changes to employment insurance law. The changes were retroactive to Dec. 31, 2000.

Marcia McDougall is the editor of CHRR’s companion publication The Canadian Employer, which tracks employment law issues (for subscription information contact 1-800-387-5164). She is also CHRR’s acting Web editor.

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