Canada’s economy has been hit extremely hard by COVID-19. In Alberta, the economy is dealing both with COVID-19 related job losses as well as those related to the recent drop in oil prices. As of one week ago, it was reported that Calgary’s unemployment rate was the highest in Canada, sitting at 8.6%, an increase of 1.4% from February of this year. Many employers have had to lay people off or terminate their employment. But COVID-19 and its impact on legislation have changed how layoffs work in Alberta.
Increased temporary layoff periods
Sections 62 and 63 Alberta’s Employment Standards Code provides employers with the ability to lay people off on a temporary basis. Until this month, an employer would have to terminate an employee if they were laid off for 60 days within a 120 day period. However, on April 6 the provincial government amended the legislation to allow a temporary layoff to extend to 120 days before termination is required. Many people expect layoffs to continue through the 120-day period. Section 63 of the Act allows for layoffs to be extended, though some payment to the employee is required to do so. However, the Act does not specify what amount must be paid, something that may require clarification in the near future.
Other changes to the Employment Standards Code
The government has made additional changes to the Act, including removing the requirement of 24-hours-notice for an employer to change an employee’s shift. Instead, the Act now requires “written notice as soon as it is practicable in the circumstances.”
Employees are also able to take unpaid leave for a period determined by the Chief Medical Officer in order to care for a family member who is under quarantine or for a child who cannot attend school or daycare due to COVID-19-related closures. Furthermore, employees are not required to have worked for at least 90 days before taking such leave. While employees may have been required to provide medical notes for such types of leave in the past, they are no longer required to do so.
Employees may have difficult decisions to make in regards to temporary layoffs, including whether alternative work is available in the light of a chance that a temporary layoff evolves into a termination. Employees still have the right to refuse an extension of a temporary layoff, but the decision to do so might include a number of considerations. We recommend that you consult with an experienced employment lawyer in such situations.
At HMC Lawyers we are continuing to assist our clients through the COVID-19 crisis, including on issues related to employment law. To speak with a member of our Employment Law Team, call 1-800-480-3534 or contact us online.