Hopefully employers will find these changes helpful as we continue to adjust to the 'new normal' created by COVID-19
On July 7, 2020, Alberta introduced Bill 32: Restoring Balance in Alberta Workplaces Act, 2020 and on July 29, Bill 32 became law.
Bill 32 implements a number of important changes to both the Employment Standards Code (the code) and the Labour Relations Code, some of which are already in effect.
The following three changes came into effect on Aug. 15:
Changes to the requirements for group terminations: Bill 32 eliminated the distinction between group terminations of 50, 100 or 300 employees that previously existed under the code, reducing the burden on employers. As of Aug. 15, 2020, there is now only one set of rules for all group terminations of 50 or more employees at a single location within a four-week period. Employers are required to provide four weeks’ notice to the minister of labour or, if this is not possible, provide written notice “as soon as is reasonable and practicable in the circumstances.”
Length of temporary layoffs: Previously, a non-COVID-19-related temporary layoff that lasted longer than 60 days within a 120-day period would have resulted in a deemed termination of the employee’s employment. Bill 32 has increased this time limit to 90 days within a 120-day period. Temporary layoffs related to COVID-19 continue to be subject to a maximum period of 180 consecutive days.
Flexible rules to apply for variances to the code: It is now easier for employers to apply to the minister of labour for variances and exemptions to help employers adapt to economic circumstances as a result of COVID-19. Employers and unions can also agree to override certain code provisions, such as maximum daily hours of work, shift changes and temporary layoffs, under a collective agreement.
The balance of the changes to the code will take effect on Nov. 1, 2020:
Hours of work: Bill 32 will bring in changes to both averaging arrangements and rest periods.
Averaging arrangements provide some relief for employers with respect to overtime, as they allow an employee’s worked time to be averaged over a specific period of time rather than calculated weekly. Under the code, an employee had to agree to an averaging agreement before such an arrangement could be implemented. As of Nov. 1, 2020, consent will no longer be required; instead, an employer will simply provide an employee with two weeks’ written notice before starting or amending an averaging arrangement. The new averaging period will also be increased from a maximum of 12 weeks to up to 52 weeks, and no end date would be required.
Currently, employers are required to provide employees with at least 30 minutes of rest time for every five hours of consecutive work performed by the employee. As of Nov. 1, 2020, employers will be required to provide at least one 30-minute break for shifts between five and 10 hours in length, and at least two 30-minute breaks for shifts 10 hours or longer. Employers and employees will also have greater flexibility to determine when or how breaks are taken, provided the minimum requirements under the code are met.
Termination pay: Bill 32 will provide employers with more time to issue an employee’s final pay following dismissal. Specifically, an employee’s final pay must be provided (at the employer’s discretion) either:
- 10 consecutive days after the end of the pay period in which termination occurred; or
- 31 consecutive days after the last day of employment.
Holiday pay: Bill 32 will also simplify the calculation of holiday pay. The new “average daily wage” used to calculate an employee’s entitlement to holiday pay would average the employee’s total wages over the number of days worked in either the a) four weeks immediately before the general holiday or b) four weeks ending on the last day of the pay period that occurred just before the general holiday. The method of calculation will be at the discretion of the employer.
Deductions from earnings: As of Nov. 1, 2020, employers will have the ability to make deductions from an employee’s wages, without the employee’s consent, to recover overpayments paid to the employee as a result of payroll errors or vacation pay paid to the employee in advance. The deduction must be made within six months of the overpayment and the employer must provide written notice to the employee that the deduction is being made.
Vacation accrual: Bill 32 will confirm that employees continue to accumulate vacation time while they are on a job protected leave of absence from the workplace.
Jobs for young people: Bill 32 will expand the types of jobs that 13- and 14 year old youths are allowed to do without a permit, including light janitorial work in offices, coaching and tutoring. Youth will also be able to work some jobs in the food services industry, provided they are working with someone 18 or older.
The goal of Bill 32 is to provide “clearer and more transparent rules promoting fairness and productivity”, and to reduce “red tape” from an employer’s daily operations, help them continue to operate, and ensure jobs are available for Albertans. Hopefully employers and employees alike will find these changes helpful as we continue to adjust to the “new normal” created by COVID-19.