A Commentary by Wendy Ferguson – BHRLR, CPHR – Ferguson HR Consulting
Yesterday the Fair and Family-Friendly Workplaces Act (Bill 17) was passed in our Alberta Legislature and will come into effect January 1, 2018. This will undoubtedly affect all employers and employees in the Province of Alberta. For purposes of this article, I will focus on the Alberta Employment Standards Code. I will not discuss the new Labour Relations Code at this time (Part 2 of Bill 17).
I think everyone can agree that our Employment Standards Code was in need of an update. It hadn’t been updated since 1988. Our workplaces and workforce have evolved tremendously since then. The Alberta government has stated that the reasons for modernizing our workplace law is to protect the rights of working Albertans and to support families and help businesses stay competitive. However, many would consider the approach as being hasty. After all, the complete consultation process took around four months. Contrast that with the Ontario government taking two years to conduct a thorough review before updating their provincial employment law.
Amber Ruddy, the Director of Provincial Affairs with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, had concerns about the impact the new labour law would have on employers. She suggested the Bill be delayed until next year in order to seek more feedback from the business community. In addition, the Labour Minister was urged by members of three opposition parties to extend the consultation period for up to a year. Clearly this did not occur and now we must understand and prepare for these imminent changes.
What To Expect
A great portion of our Alberta Labour Standards Code will be repealed or amended come January 1, 2018. Organizations will need to begin to take steps to bring their policies, procedures and operating practices into compliance.
I will outline for you the major changes in our Alberta Labour Standards Code. There are areas within the new legislation including youth employment, and farming and ranching operations which I will not touch on at this time.
Increases to Leave Entitlements
Employees will be eligible for all leaves after 90 days of employment (currently 1 year).
Compassionate Care Leave
- leave period will be 27 weeks (currently 8 weeks)
- caregiver status will be extended to non-primary caregivers
- leave will be available for multiple weekly installments within the period outlined in the medical certificate (currently limit of 2 installments)
- notice to employer remains at 2 weeks, but language changes to “leave can be taken as soon as reasonable)
- notice to return to work will be 48 hours (currently 2 weeks)
- the end date is to be either the date of death of the family member or the end of the 27 week period (whichever is earlier)
- job protection will be 16 weeks (currently 15 weeks) to account for one-week waiting time for federal EI benefits
- job protection for parental leave remains at 37 weeks (this may be increased in the future)
New Unpaid Leaves
- Long-Term Illness and Injury Leave – will provide up to 16 weeks of job protection per year for long-term personal sickness or injury. Medical certificates and reasonable notice required (will align with federal Employment Insurance (EI) program).
- Personal and Family Responsibility Leave – will provide up to 5 days of job protection per year for personal sickness or short-term care of an immediate family member.
- Bereavement Leave – will provide up to 3 days of job protection per year for bereavement of an immediate family member.
- Domestic Violence Leave – will provide up to 10 days of job protection per year for employees addressing such a situation.
- Citizenship Ceremony Leave – will provide up to a half day of job protection for employees attending a citizenship ceremony.
- Critical Illness of a Child – will provide up to 36 weeks of job protection for parents of critically ill or injured children (will align with federal EI program)
- Death or Disappearance of a Child – will provide up to 52 weeks of job protection for employees whose child disappeared as a result of a crime, or 104 weeks if child died as a result of a crime (will align with federal EI program).
A 30 minute break is required (paid or unpaid) for every 5 hours of consecutive employment (currently “in excess” of 5 hours of work)
Compressed Work Weeks
This will be renamed as an “Averaging Agreement” and will require support of the majority of affected employees. Employers and employees will be allowed to agree to average work hours over a period of 1 to 12 weeks for the purpose of determining overtime eligibility. The agreement may not allow for a work day that exceeds 12 hours or a work week that exceeds an average of 44 hours.
The code will restrict employers from deducting wages for faulty work or cash shortages (i.e. “gas and dash” / “dine and dash” scenarios, as currently permitted)
Employers may not pay employees with disabilities less than minimum wage (currently an employer is eligible to apply for a permit from the government nullifying minimum wage standards for disabled workers).
- Overtime agreements will allow time to be banked for 6 months (currently 3 months)
- Overtime banking will be calculated at 1.5X for ALL hours worked (currently hour for hour)
General Holiday and General Holiday Pay
- All employees will be eligible for general holiday pay and regular and non-regular day of work distinction will be eliminated.
- Pay will be calculated simply as 5% of wages from previous 4 weeks worked.
Vacation and Vacation Pay
- Employees must be paid 4% of their total wages as vacation pay until they have been employed for 5 years after which they must receive at least 6% of their total wages.
- Half-day vacation increments will be permitted (currently 1 day minimum).
Termination and Temporary Layoffs
- Will clarify options for employers when employees provide more notice of termination than is required by the Code (no further details).
- Employers will be prohibited from forcing employees to use entitlements such as vacation or overtime during a termination notice period, unless agreed to by both parties.
- Employers planning group terminations will have new notice periods, depending on the number of employees in the organization.
- Layoffs will be required to be limited to 60 days within a 120 day period.
- Written notice of a temporary layoff to an employee will be required with effective date and referencing applicable provision of the Code.
- Recall notices are required to be written.
- Termination pay will be calculated based on the previous 13 weeks of employment when the employee actually worked, not the calendar weeks preceding termination.
Just briefly, a penalty system will be implemented for employers found to be in contravention of the Code. The time period to commence prosecution has increased to 2 years (formerly 1 year).
The above changes and additions to our labour code have the potential to significantly impact your business. The extensive “leave” list alone may seem overwhelming to some employers, regardless of them being unpaid. Employers will need to plan how they will manage the new job protected leaves in terms of productivity and job coverage. Also the changes to overtime pay may greatly impact some businesses. However, many organizations already have policies and programs that exceed the current and newly passed minimum legislative requirements. For example, many of my clients already have Bereavement Leave or Personal Leave (Sick) policies that meet or exceed even the new minimum requirements.
I recommend you review your existing policies soon and start to plan how you will incorporate the legislation into your business practices today. This will surely affect every facet of your business, including HR, Payroll, Finance and beyond. Should you need assistance with revamping your policies or with temporary placement related to leave coverage, don’t hesitate to contact Ferguson HR Consulting. We specialize in policy, legislative compliance as well as recruiting.
For further information or to review the 252 page Bill 17 in its entirety, please visit: www.alberta.ca/workplace-legislation-changes.
About Wendy Ferguson
Wendy Ferguson is an Alberta based Human Resources Generalist and Consultant with over 15 years of combined experience in the areas of HR, Business Administrative Management and Marketing.
She has worked within a broad range of industries, including: oil & gas, architecture, law, information technology, engineering, accounting and business consulting firms. She works with companies on both a full time and part time consulting basis to help them address their HR management, recruitment and policy needs.
She is also a Chartered Professional in Human Resources (CPHR). CPHRs are uniquely qualified to help you achieve your business goals. With proven expertise across nine key business metrics, a CPHR has the knowledge and the experience to address the factors that underpin the degree of your immediate and long term success.
For your HR requirements contact Wendy at [email protected]
Senior Management HR Advisory
Alberta Employment Standards