Canada: Employer Obligations During The Fort McMurray Wildfire

The devastating impact of the wildfire that continues to burn throughout northern Alberta has left those directly affected with unanswered questions relating to sources of income and financial stability. Many workplaces have either ceased operations indefinitely or no longer exist. The situation has many employers asking about their duties to employees in these circumstances. This bulletin is a summary of Alberta employer obligations relating to occupational health and safety, employee pay, time off and terminations of employment in times of emergency.


In Alberta, the employment relationship is fundamentally contractual in nature. In a unionized context, the terms of the collective agreement will govern. In a non-unionized context, the terms of the individual employment agreement (whether written or verbal) will govern. Such agreements are supplemented by common law contract principles and legislation governing the workplace, including Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), Occupational Health and Safety Code (OHS Code) and Employment Standards Code (ES Code).

The OHSA, OHS Code and the ES Code contain the following provisions applicable to emergency circumstances such as the current wildfire:

  • OHSA, section 2(1): General obligation on employers to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of their workers.
  • OHS Code, Part 7: Obligation on employers to establish and keep current an emergency response plan for responding to emergencies that may require rescue or evacuation. The personnel involved in emergency response must be specified in the plan, involved in its development, and made familiar with the procedures it provides for. All worksites require emergency response plans that address items such as first aid, fire protection, and procedures for rescue and evacuation.
  • ES Code, section 55(2)(g): Termination notice is not required "if the contract of employment is or has become impossible for the employer to perform by reason of unforeseeable or unpreventable causes beyond the control of the employer."

The legislation cited above represents the only legislative provisions applicable to provincially regulated Alberta employers specifically relating to emergency or natural disaster circumstances in the workplace.

Notably, other provinces (Ontario and Nova Scotia) have incorporated declared emergency leaves, providing employees with unpaid job protected leave in the event of a government declared emergency. Alberta has not explicitly legislated in this area, although there is a reasonable probability that an employer would be found to be acting imprudently to deny a reasonable request for unpaid leave during an emergency.


From a first-principles perspective and subject to contractual requirements to the contrary, an employer is only required to pay employees for time worked. In other words, an employer is not required to pay employees who are not working due to a natural disaster.

That being said, reports surrounding Alberta's wildfire have indicated a willingness on the part of many employers to compensate workers for at least a certain amount of time they were unable to work. Some employers have also referred to company benefits that subsidize wages during disasters.

We note that caution should be taken in reducing or shutting down facilities for reasons other than safety concerns or the difficulty of continuing operations so as to avoid the risk of constructive dismissal claims (claims based on fundamental breach of the employment contract). If feasible, employers should consider whether there are ways of accommodating employees at other work locations. If unfeasible, employers should be aware of the ES Code's temporary lay-off provisions, which allow for the temporary lay-off of employees up to a maximum of 60 days. Subject to any contractual requirements to the contrary, employers can make use of this mechanism to maintain employment relationships without proceeding to terminations of employment (if lay-off extends beyond 60 days, employment is deemed to be terminated). Note that legal advice should be sought prior to relying on these provisions and proceeding with any lay-offs.


Subject to the terms of the individual employment contract or collective agreement, section 38 of the ES Code allows employers to determine when an employee will take vacation. If the employee and employer are unable to agree on when the employee's vacation time should occur, an employer may provide two weeks' written notice, requiring the employee to take vacation at a specific time. While cooperation between employers and employees during an emergency or natural disaster should be encouraged, this provision of the ES Code should be kept in mind by employers assessing how to react to the interruption of their operations.


If the employer's business has been destroyed as a result of a natural disaster, the employment agreement may be considered frustrated, allowing the employer to summarily terminate the employment relationship. By virtue of the ES Code, employers in these circumstances are not required to provide notice of termination (or pay in lieu thereof) if the employment contract has become impossible to perform by reason of unforeseeable or unpreventable causes beyond the employer's control. Similarly, the common law doctrine of frustration of contract would apply to relieve the employer and employee of any further contractual obligations, including an employer's obligation to provide reasonable notice of termination (or pay in lieu thereof).

However, employers who have only been temporarily affected by a natural disaster (temporary closure or reduction in operations) are likely unable to rely on frustration of contract and would generally be required to provide notice of termination (or pay in lieu thereof) for any terminations of employment.

If terminating the employment of 50 or more employees at a single location within a four-week period, employers should also take note of the ES Code's group termination provision, which requires notice of the group termination to the minister of labour.


Ultimately, unless the employment agreement provides otherwise, an employer is not obligated to pay employees if they are not working as a result of a natural disaster. Although employers are subject to certain obligations relating to employee workplace safety in relation to natural disasters, employers are not required by statute or at common law to go beyond this "safety first" principle. While the ES Code provides some mechanisms that employers may make use of in managing the employment relationship during a natural disaster, the following key takeaways should also be kept in mind:

  • Consider planning for the next natural disaster through workplace policies. Policies that address employer and employee obligations as well as the potential impact on operations, wages and benefits in the event of a natural disaster, can manage employees' expectations when a disaster strikes.
  • Notify employees of the availability of emergency financial aid (those affected by the Fort McMurray wildfire are eligible for Alberta government assistance of C$1,250 per adult and C$500 per dependent and Canadian Red Cross assistance of C$600 per adult and C$300 per child), the availability of social-based assistance services through Alberta Supports (online or toll-free at 1-877-644-9992), and accelerated processes for accessing social assistance mechanisms such as employment insurance (Service Canada representatives have been placed at evacuation centres to assist with the application process and the Government of Canada has issued a special access code for those seeking employment insurance as a result of the fires in order to streamline the process, whether initiated online or in person, even without a Record of Employment).
  • Review individual employment agreements and collective agreements, if applicable, to confirm whether any additional employer obligations (e.g., requirement for continuation of pay) have been specifically addressed in such agreements.

To make a donation through the Canadian Red Cross in support of the Fort McMurray fire relief, please contact 1-800-418-1111 or visit the Alberta Fires Appeal donation website here.

Workers affected by the fires should contact Service Canada at 1-800-206-7218, visit them online or in-person at the nearest Service Canada Centre.  

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Events from this Firm
27 Oct 2016, Seminar, Toronto, Canada

Please join members of the Blakes Commercial Real Estate group as they discuss five key provisions of a commercial real estate purchase agreement that are often the subject of much negotiation but are sometimes misunderstood.

1 Nov 2016, Seminar, Toronto, Canada

What is the emotional culture of your organization?

Every organization and workplace has an emotional culture that can have an impact on everything from employee performance to customer or client satisfaction.

3 Nov 2016, Seminar, Toronto, Canada

Join leading lawyers from the Blakes Pensions, Benefits & Executive Compensation group as they discuss recent updates and legal developments in pension and employee benefits law as well as strategies to identify and minimize common risks.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.