Canada: Highlights Of Bill 17: Alberta's Fair And Family Friendly Workplaces Act

Bill 17: The Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act, was introduced in the Alberta Legislature on May 24, 2017. The Bill is part of the Government of Alberta's efforts to ensure that "Alberta has fair, modern and family-friendly workplaces that support a growing economy."

If passed, the legislation will amend the Employment Standards Code and the Labour Relations Code, both of which came into effect in 1988.

The following is a preliminary review of the amendments put forward as part of Bill 17.

EMPLOYMENT STANDARDS CODE

The proposed amendments will:

Deductions from Earnings

  • Increase restrictions on when an employer may deduct earnings from an employee, including preventing an employer from deducting earnings for damage caused by an employee or cash shortages caused by an employee's failure to collect money from a purchaser

Overtime

  • Allow employees to take time off in lieu of receiving overtime pay at a rate of 1.5 hours for each hour of overtime worked, as opposed to the previous 1 hour for each hour of overtime
  • Give employees 6 months to take time off for overtime worked, as opposed to the previous 3 months

General Holiday Pay and Vacation Time

  • Grant general holiday pay to all employees immediately upon their start date, as opposed to only those who worked for the employer for at least 30 work days
  • Authorize employees to take half days for vacation as opposed to full days

Job Protected Leaves

  • Reduce the eligibility period for all unpaid job-protected leaves from 52 weeks of employment to 90 days of employment
  • Require that an employee returning from an unpaid leave be paid the same earnings and benefits that they had prior to the leave
  • Introduce rules concerning terminating an employee on any unpaid leave, as well as rules concerning the notice an employee must provide before returning to work from any unpaid leave
  • Introduce changes to unpaid maternity and parental leave, including:

    • Extend maternity leave to 16 weeks, as opposed to 15 weeks
    • Entitle employees to maternity leave if a pregnancy does not result in a live birth
  • Introduce a number of changes to unpaid compassionate care leave, including:

    • Extend compassionate care leave to 27 weeks, as opposed to 8 weeks
    • Entitle all employees to compassionate care leave, as opposed to only those who are primary caregivers for a family member
    • Require 48 hours' notice of an employee's notice to return to work, as opposed to 2 weeks
  • Introduce a number of new unpaid leaves for employees, including:

    • 52 weeks of leave in the event of a disappearance of a child due to crime and 104 weeks in the event of a death of a child due to crime
    • 36 weeks of leave for the purpose of providing care or support to a critically ill child
    • 16 weeks of leave due to illness, injury or quarantine
  • Introduce a number of new shorter unpaid leaves, including:

    • 10 days of leave for the purpose of addressing domestic violence
    • 5 days of leave for the purpose of ensuring the health of the employee or to allow the employee to meet their family responsibilities
    • 3 days of bereavement leave
    • A half-day to attend a citizenship ceremony to receive a certificate of citizenship

Terminations

  • Prevent employers from requiring employees to use any banked overtime, vacation time, or holiday time during the employee's termination notice period
  • Increase the amount of notice an employer must provide the Government in the event of a termination of 50 or more employees, as well as require such notice to be provided to the employees directly

Temporary Layoffs

  • Introduce a requirement that an employer provide employees with notice in the event of a temporary layoff, including 1 week of notice for an employee employed less than 2 years and 2 weeks of notice for an employee employed more than 2 years
  • Deem termination after 60 total days of layoff within a 120 day period, as opposed to after 60 consecutive days of layoff

Minimum Age of Employment and Wages

  • Amend the minimum age requirements for employment, including:

    • Allow children 12 years of age or younger to be employed only in an artistic endeavour and only if authorized by a permit
    • Allow children ages 13 to 15 to be employed only in an artistic endeavour, light work, or other employment authorized by a permit so long as it is not hazardous work
    • Allow children ages 16 and 17 to be employed in any employment but requiring that hazardous work meet certain requirements
  • Eliminate the ability for an employer to pay less than minimum wage to a person with a disability

Enforcement, Appeals and Penalties

  • Extend the limitation period for filing a complaint to two years
  • Substitute a newly created appeal body to hear any appeals under the legislation, as opposed to being heard by an umpire
  • Introduce "administrative penalties" which may be levied against an employer in the event of non-compliance with the legislation

The majority of the proposed changes to the Employment Standards Code will come into force on January 1, 2018, with the exception of the provisions relating to youth employment, which will come into force upon Proclamation.

LABOUR RELATIONS CODE

The proposed amendments will:

Labour Relations Board

  • Provide the Labour Relations Board with additional or expanded powers including:

    • The power to order the pre-hearing production of documents and other things relevant to an application before the Board
    • The ability to prevent the disclosure of confidential information to anyone other than the parties to the Board's proceedings if the Board considers that the information is likely to harm labour relations
    • The power to make any order or directive requiring an employer, employers' organization, employee, trade union or other person to do or refrain from doing anything that is equitable for that party to do in order to remedy or counteract any consequence of the contravention or failure to comply
    • The ability to make a marshalling order (when a party applies for same) to ensure that a matter is not unnecessarily pursued in multiple forums (i.e. arbitration, human rights, etc.)
    • The ability to review arbitration decisions in the first instance. An appeal of the Board decision in this regard would proceed to the Court of Appeal
    • The ability to order first contract arbitration
  • Require, at the trade union's request, a clause in the collective agreement requiring the deduction of union dues from all employees in the unit, whether or not the employee is a member of the union

Certification

  • Introduce a hybrid certification process that eliminates the requirement for a representation vote if the Board is satisfied that, at the time of the application for certification, the union had the support of more than 65% of the employees in the unit (a vote will be required where an application for certification is supported by 40% and 65% of the employees in the unit). The trade union is permitted to elect to waive its right to certification in this regard and to proceed with the application on the basis of the results of a representation vote
  • Allow employees in the unit applied for who apply to become members of the union within 6 months (instead of 90 days) of the date of application for certification to be counted in determining if the 40% threshold for a certification vote is reached

First Collective Agreement

  • Introduce first contract arbitration, allowing parties negotiating a first collective agreement who do not reach an agreement within 90 days of bargaining commencing or the service of the notice to commence bargaining to apply to the Board for remedies, including binding arbitration

Dependent Contractors

  • Add the defined term "dependent contractor" and allow them to be part of a bargaining unit
  • Give the Board the ability to determine if it would be more appropriate to include dependent contractors in an existing bargaining unit instead of certifying a new unit consisting of or including dependent contractors

Secondary Picketing

  • Allow secondary picketing

Essential Services

  • Add subsidiary health corporations of a regional health authority, health care laboratories, and Canadian Blood Services as essential services providers and prevent lockouts and/or strikes in regard to those entities

Remote Work Places

  • Introduce means by which the Board can facilitate a union's communication with employees in remote or inaccessible workplaces

Arbitrators

  • Expand the powers of arbitrators, including granting the ability to:

    • Extend the timelines for taking any step in a grievance process or arbitration procedure set out in a collective agreement, even after the expiration of the timeline
    • Require a party to furnish particulars before or during a hearing
    • Require a party to produce relevant documents before the hearing
    • Make interim orders
    • Mediate
    • Expedite hearings

Wage Freeze

  • Extend the statutory wage freeze period from 60 days to 120 days

Burden of Proof

  • Place the burden of proof on employers to show that the employer did not engage in an unfair labour practice in complaints involving discipline, dismissal, discrimination or other intimidation of an employee

Most of the proposed changes to the Labour Relations Code will come into force upon Royal Assent of the Bill with others, including the process for review of arbitration decisions, the hybrid certification process and the reverse onus coming into force on September 1, 2017. The provisions related to family farms come into force on January 1, 2018. Once the Bill is passed the provision relating to essential services will be deemed to have come into force on May 24, 2017.

We note that since the Bill's introduction on May 24, 2017, progress has been stalled slightly by the requirement in the Legislature for further debate on the question whether it should be referred to a broader consultation process. That may have the effect of changing the terms of the Bill, particularly in the part relating to changes to the Labour Relations Code, as well as changing the date of its implementation.

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.

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