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Employment relationship

State-specific laws
What state-specific laws govern the employment relationship?

The major Alberta employment-related statute is the Employment Standards Code. Other important statutes for private employers include:

  • the Apprenticeship and Industry Training Act;
  • the Employment Pension Plans Act;
  • the Human Rights Act;
  • the Labor Relations Code;
  • the Occupational Health and Safety Act;
  • the Workers Compensation Act; and
  • the Personal Information Protection Act.

A number of other laws affect public sector and broader public sector employers in Alberta.

For federally regulated employers, the main statute is the Canada Labor Code, although other federal legislation also governs the workplace (e.g., the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Personal Information and Protection of Electronic Documents Act).

Who do these cover, including categories of workers?

Generally, the laws cover “employees”; however, because the laws governing the employment relationship are public welfare laws, the courts have held that the term “employee” must be broadly and liberally interpreted. Therefore, depending on the circumstances, the definition of “employee” may include persons whom the employer has treated as independent contractors, consultants, interns, employees of affiliated employers, or employees of temporary help agencies. Health and safety law has been interpreted to include self-employed individuals and independent contractors as workers. 

Misclassification
Are there state-specific rules regarding employee/contractor misclassification?

Yes—the rules or approaches may differ between a variety of agencies (e.g., tax, health, and safety), depending on the purpose of the specific legislation. A recognized category of “dependent” contractors are also owed reasonable notice of contract termination.

Contracts
Must an employment contract be in writing?

Contracts need not be in writing, but all employees have a contract by operation of law; in many cases contracts are part oral, part written (e.g., offer letters or vacation policies), and part implied by the common law (e.g., the employee’s duty of loyalty and the employer’s duty to provide reasonable notice of termination, except for just cause). Nevertheless, ensuring that employees have a comprehensive written employment agreement is the most prudent course of action. 

Are any terms implied into employment contracts?

Yes—the major implied terms are the employee’s duty of loyalty and the employer’s obligation to provide reasonable notice of termination, except for just cause. 

Are mandatory arbitration agreements enforceable?

Yes—although arbitration clauses should be drafted carefully and in accordance with the Alberta Arbitration Act to ensure that the objectives behind agreements are achieved.

How can employers make changes to existing employment agreements?

If a material change to an employment agreement is made without the employee’s consent, he or she may be able to quit and sue for constructive dismissal or claim damages for breach of contract. Any agreed changes should be supported by an exchange of consideration. Changes can be made unilaterally as long as notice under the contract or reasonable notice is provided. Written agreements may also contain provisions which specifically address amendments.

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