There has recently been an influx of class action lawsuits filed against employers in Alberta. McLennan Ross is now handling a number of these claims on behalf of our clients, many of which have been filed by the same sole practitioner in Calgary. These claims are all principally variations of the same claim, which is based on the central allegation that the employer did not correctly calculate the employee's "wages," as that term is defined in the Alberta Employment Standards Code, or comply with other Employment Standards requirements. The claims allege that employees have been underpaid, "wages" should include benefits contributions, paystubs do not contain required information, employees are incorrectly classified as managers, employees have worked excess hours without pay, termination pay has been handled incorrectly, and the employer has generally breached the Employment Standards Code.
It is important that employers (particularly large employers) be prepared for such claims and take steps to confirm their payroll processes.
Class actions in the employment sector are not new. However, most of the class action lawsuits Canadian employers have faced to date have primarily been related to unpaid overtime claims, such as those in the Fresco v Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce case. What we may be seeing is an expansion of the class action process, as these new claims are very broad in scope.
The class action process in Alberta is governed by the Class Proceedings Act and the Alberta Rules of Court. Class proceedings involve complicated and specific procedures, the first step of which is certification by the Court.
McLennan Ross has significant experience dealing with class actions. In the recent decision Lewis v WestJet Airlines Ltd., McLennan Ross successfully defended a proposed class action before the British Columbia Superior Court. The Court agreed that the claim did not meet the requirements for certification and that the more practical and efficient method for the proposed class members was to bring their complaints through the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
These recent proposed class actions will face similar issues over what is the appropriate forum and whether the proposed class is appropriate for certification.
There is value in handling the defences to these new claims in a coordinated fashion. We are doing so in the similar class actions we are currently defending. Any additional employers served with similar class action claims would also benefit from the combined efforts, research, and coordination of these other claims, as well as our experience with labour and employment matters generally and class actions specifically.
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.