Bill C-59, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on April 21, 2015 and other measures (the “Bill”), proposes several key changes to the provisions of the Canada Labour Code1985(the “Code”) as part of the federal government’s 2015 Economic Action Plan. If passed, the proposed changes under the Bill and the 2015 Economic Action Plan will have a significant impact on federally-regulated employers, specifically with respect to the accommodation of employees seeking leaves of absence to care for family members and the imposition of measures to further address workplace health and safety.

Summary of Select Key Considerations

Compassionate care leave extension

Under the proposed amendments contained in the Bill, employees who obtain a medical certificate evidencing a family member’s illness shall be entitled to an unpaid, job-protected leave of absence of up to 28 weeks to care for a family member. This is a significant increase from the Code’s current limit of eight weeks’ leave.

Internships

If passed, the Bill will amend Parts II and III of the Code to “ensure that interns under federal jurisdiction receive occupational health and safety protections and are subject to basic safety standards.” An exception is carved out for internships that are completed per the requirements of a post-secondary institution or vocational school. Under the proposed changes, in order to exempt an intern from the occupational health and safety provisions of the Code: (i) the hours worked must be limited; (ii) the benefits gained must accrue mainly to the intern; (iii) the employer must supervise the intern; (iv) the intern must not replace an employee; and (v) the intern must be aware that they will not be remunerated.

Consolidation of the Code with Occupational Health and Safety Regulations

The 2015 Economic Action Plan outlines the government’s intention to consolidate the current legislation for addressing workplace violence and sexual harassment, namely Part II of the Code, Part XX of the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations and Part III of the Code. The amendments will “address violence and sexual harassment in federally regulated private-sector workplaces to ensure that employees are treated fairly and protected from harm in the workplace”.

Increased Funding for Health and Safety Officers

The federal government plans to provide $4.8 million over five years to increase compliance with the health and safety provisions of the Code, particularly in remote areas and high-risk sectors. The 2015 Economic Action Plan proposes to achieve this by increasing the number of health and safety officers responsible for ensuring compliance and enforcement of occupational health and safety provisions under the Code from 90 to 100 officers nationally.

Practical Implications

Bill C-59 had its first reading on May 7, 2015 and additional readings are required before the implications of this legislation become a reality. It is expected that there will be changes forthcoming as various stakeholders in the labour and employment arena work with the federal government to develop a framework that is both practical and effective.

Nevertheless, federally-regulated employers may want to start thinking about what types of practical and administrative changes would be needed in order to comply with the requirements under the Bill, if passed. This may involve a preliminary review of company internship programs, occupational health and safety policies, and policies and procedures related to employee leaves.

The Labour and Employment Group will continue to monitor these developments and provide updates as they become available.