Flexible shift work schedules are a familiar part of large-scale
infrastructure and resource projects in British Columbia. In those
industries, it is common for employees to work for several weeks,
followed by a week off, work 10- or 12-hour shifts, or work some
other nonstandard schedule. However, as more employers look for
ways to lower payroll costs and improve flexibility, demand for
flexible shift scheduling is increasing across many industries, a
trend which is gaining momentum and will continue for the
The reasons motiving non-standard work schedules are myriad, but
often include time and cost pressures on employers. For example,
market pressures may demand that a project is complete before price
changes make the project uneconomic. Employers often compete for
skilled employees from out of province, who may prefer the
compensation benefits offered by many consecutive days of work, and
longer breaks to return home. Finally, capital-intensive equipment
can be better utilized when projects are completed quickly,
allowing employers to be more efficient.
Providing the right kind of labour and employment scheduling
requires good planning – in the non-union context, those
arrangement are often in tension with many provisions of the
Employment Standards Act, including provisions setting out
maximum hours of work per week, overtime provisions, minimum amount
of time free from work per week, and other rules that provide
limits to shift scheduling. However, there are several tools within
the Act that can provide significant flexibility – variances,
averaging agreements, and exclusions – and are available to
all employers in British Columbia.
Unfortunately, reasonable accommodation for employees in the workplace continues to be the source of significant litigation and even today we continue to see outrageous examples of employers behaving badly.
We are now beginning to see reported cases involving charges and subsequent fines laid against employers for failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to protect a worker from workplace violence.
On October 13, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada denied leave to appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal decision which ordered an employer to pay a former employee 37 months of salary and benefits following termination.
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