Across Canada, laws governing the workplace have been changing to keep up with evolving norms, including an increasing need to balance work and family life, among other modern realities. As we reported last year, here in Alberta, a significant transformation was the introduction of the Fair and Family-Friendly Workplaces Act (the Act) whose changes took effect on January 1, 2018. As of this year, new employment standards are in place province-wide, intended to help employees and their families, and will impact both employers and employees going forward.
The Fair and Family-Friendly Workplaces Act
The Act was introduced after a review of existing legislation and using input collected from industry, business, unions, non-profits, and the public. Between March 13 and April 18, 2017 more than 7,000 submissions were received by the Alberta government. All this feedback was reviewed as part of the development of the Act.
Prior to the introduction of the Act, Alberta’s workplace legislation had not been significantly updated in more than 30 years. The Act recognizes that the nature of both work and family life has drastically changed since then and makes significant amendments to the province’s existing Employment Standards Code and Labour Relations Code.
The Minister of Labour said that:
Albertans deserve fair and family-friendly workplaces that support a strong economy and ensure they can take care of their loved ones. After nearly 30 years of inaction by the previous government, Alberta’s laws were out of date and out of step with the rest of Canada. I’m proud that our government brought forward these modern, fair and balanced laws that protect the rights of hard-working Albertans, support their families and help businesses stay competitive.
The amendments provide Albertans with the same rights and protections of employees in other jurisdictions across Canada, and includes a number of family-friendly provisions.
Major changes include expanded compassionate care provisions, important changes to maternity and parental leave, newly introduced leaves (including domestic violence leave and others), changes to termination, and a new penalty system for employees. .
Key Changes to the Employment Standards Code
Alberta’s amended Employment Standards Code came into effect January 1, 2018 with a number of key changes, the most important of which we remind our readers of below:
Compassionate Care Leave
Parents of critically ill or injured children or individuals who must care for gravely-ill family members will now be able to take time off to care for them without fearing that they will be fired:
- Unpaid job protection has been extended to 27 weeks (a significant increase from the previous 8 weeks), intended to better align with federal Employment Insurance (EI) benefits;
- “Caregiver” status has been expanded to include non-primary caregivers;
- Leave is now available for multiple weekly installments within the period outlined in the medical certificate (this provides more flexibility that the previous limit of 2 installments of leave only);
- Employees must still provide employers with two weeks’ notice of compassionate care leave, but the Act now contemplates that leave can be taken “as soon as reasonable”;
- Employees can provide notice of their planned return to work one week before the return (this is a change from the previous notice requirement of two weeks).
- The end date for compassionate care leave can be either the last day of the work week in which the family member dies or the employee ceases to provide care, or the end of the 27-week period (whichever is earlier).
Maternity and Parental Leave
The new Code has lowered the threshold for maternity leave and provided for the extension of parental leave to allow for greater flexibility for working families and to align Alberta’s leave policies with federal EI guidelines:
- Unpaid job protection for maternity leave has been extended from 15 to 16 weeks (this accounts for the one-week waiting time for federal EI benefits);
- Unpaid job protection for parental leave has been extended to 62 weeks;
The new Code provides for a number of other types of leave, to be taken unpaid. Employees are eligible for such leave after 90 days of employment. These leaves include:
- Domestic Violence Leave: a newly introduced leave allows employees who are dealing with domestic violence to take up to 10 days of protected leave a year;
- Critical Illness of a Child: a newly introduced leave allows parents who must care for a critically ill or injured child to take up to 36 weeks of protected leave a year. This aligns with the federal EI program.
- Death or Disappearance of a Child: a newly introduced leave allows a parent to take up to 52 weeks of protected leave a year where a child has disappeared as a result of a crime, or up to 104 weeks of protected leave a year where a child has died as a result of a crime. This aligns with the federal EI program.
- Critical Illness of an Adult Family Member: a new unpaid leave allows employees who must care for an ill or injured adult family member up to 16 weeks of protected leave a year. This aligns with the federal EI program.
A number of other leaves were also introduced in the new Code.
There has been some clarification of the rules around termination. Under the new Code:
- Employers can no longer force employees to take vacation or use overtime during a termination notice period, unless agreed to by both parties;
- Requirements for providing notice of termination to large groups of employees will be increased;
- Termination pay will be calculated based on the previous 13 weeks of employment of when an employee actually worked rather than basing it on 13 preceding calendar weeks.
More information about these and changes under the Act can be found here.
If you are an employer or an employee and have questions about how these changes will impact you, contact HMC Lawyers. We are committed to providing both employers and employees with forward-thinking guidance intended to manage and mitigate risk and benefit their workplace relationships. We have more than 130 years of cumulative litigation experience providing insightful advice to our clients about employment standards, human rights, and other legal matters related to work. We strive to resolve challenging workplace disputes with a minimum disruption to relationships, wherever possible. To speak with a member of our Employment Team, call 1-800-480-3534 or contact us online.