Federally-regulated employers take note: significant changes to employment standards under the Canada Labour Code come into effect on September 1, 2019.

Most employers in Canada are governed by provincial employment standards legislation, but some are subject to the Canada Labour Code. A few examples include telephone and internet companies, banks, airlines, airports, interprovincial trucking companies, railroads, and First Nation governments and related entities. Until now, the Canada Labour Code excluded many of the rules common across nearly all provincial employment standards acts. This is about to change.

On September 1, 2019, the following changes come into effect:

  1. Meal breaks: an employee will now be entitled to an unpaid 30-minute meal break after five consecutive hours of work, subject to certain limited exceptions for unforeseeable emergency circumstances. If the employee is on call during the break, it must be paid.
  2. Time off between shifts: an employee will be entitled to an 8-hour rest period between work shifts, subject to certain limited exceptions for unforeseeable emergency circumstances.
  3. Medical breaks: employees with certificates from a health care practitioner will be entitled to unpaid medical breaks as necessary for their condition. There may be future regulations limiting this right.
  4. Shift changes: employers will need to provide 24 hours written notice of shift changes, subject to limited exceptions for unforeseeable emergency circumstances.
  5. Scheduling notice: an employer will be required to provide 96 hours' notice, in writing, of an employee's work schedule. If the schedule is provided with less notice, an employee may refuse to work, subject to exceptions including for emergencies or if the collective agreement provides for a different timeline.
  6. Nursing breaks: new mothers will be entitled to unpaid nursing (or milk expression) breaks.
  7. Annual vacation: employees will be entitled to the following increased annual vacation


    Vacation Time

    Vacation Pay

    1-5 years

    Two weeks

    4% of wages

    5-10 years

    Three weeks

    6% of wages

    10+ years

    Four weeks

    8% of wages

  1. Employment deemed continuous: the section regarding continuity of employment on a business sale or transfer will be expanded such that employment will be deemed continuous if a provincially-regulated employer becomes federally-regulated, or if a contract is re-tendered and the employee remains working for the new contract-holder. There are some exceptions.
  2. Minimum service requirements eliminated: the minimum service requirements to be eligible for general holiday pay, maternity leave, parental leave, critical illness leave and death or disappearance leave will be eliminated.
  3. Substituting a general holiday: employers may substitute a different day for a general holiday if 70% of affected employees (or the union, if applicable) agree.
  4. Bereavement leave increased: employees may take up to 5 days, and if the employee has completed 3 months of employment, the first 3 of those days are paid.
  5. New job-protected leaves of absence:

    a) Medical leave: up to 17 weeks unpaid for personal illness or injury, organ or tissue donation, or medical appointments during working hours.

    b) Court and jury duty: unpaid leave to appear as witness, act as a juror or participate in jury selection. There is no maximum length.

    c) Personal leave: employees may take five days of personal leave (3 of which are paid if the employee has 6 months of employment) for treating illness or injury, care of family members, carrying out responsibilities related to education of children under 18, addressing an urgent personal or family matter, or attending a citizenship ceremony.

    d) Family responsibility leave: employees with 3 months of employment may take up to 3 unpaid days per calendar year to carry our responsibilities related to health or care of family members, or education of family members less than 18 years old.

    e) Victims of family violence leave: employees who are victims of family violence, or parents of victims of family violence are entitled to 10 days of unpaid leave per calendar year for certain specified purposes.

    f) Leave for traditional Aboriginal practices: Aboriginal employees with 3 months of employment may take up to 5 unpaid days per calendar year to engage in traditional Aboriginal practices.

  1. Overtime may be banked: with the written agreement of an employee, the employer may bank overtime at the rate of 1.5 hours off with pay for each 1 hour of overtime worked. The time off must be taken (or paid out) within 3 months of the pay period in which it was earned, unless employee and employer agree otherwise.
  2. Right to refuse overtime: employees may refuse overtime for responsibilities related to the health or care, or education, of a family member under 18, but the employee must take reasonable steps to make other arrangements before refusing overtime.
  3. Flexible work arrangements: an employee with 6 months of service may request changes to working hours, schedule, or location of work, with an explanation of how the employer could manage that change. The employer must respond in writing by either granting the request, proposing alternatives, or denying the request only on certain specified grounds.

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.