On April 21, 2015, the Government of Canada tabled the federal budget, Economic Action Plan 2015 (Budget 2015), in the House of Commons. In Budget 2015, the government promised a number of measures affecting occupational health and safety and employment standards provisions for federally regulated entities. Below is a brief summary of these measures.
New family responsibility leaves
Budget 2015 sets out the government’s commitment to amend theCanada Labour Code (the Code) to provide two new leaves to federally regulated employees. Both a short-term and a long-term family responsibility leave will be introduced, where previously none existed. Family responsibility leaves are becoming more common across Canadian jurisdictions; most recently, the Government of Ontario introduced a new family caregiver leave under the Employment Standards Act, 2000, which provides up to eight weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for employees to provide care or support to a family member with a serious medical condition.
Increase to bereavement leave
Budget 2015 signalled the government’s intent to increase the amount of bereavement leave provided under the Code. Currently, the Code provides for three days of leave immediately following the death of an immediate family member.
Violence and harassment in the workplace
Although no details were provided in Budget 2015, the government has committed to amend the Code to “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.” Currently, the Code provides for two processes to address violence (under Part II of the Code and Part XX of the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations) and sexual harassment in the workplace (under Division XV.1 of Part III of the Code).
Protection for interns
The government intends to amend the Code to provide occupational health and safety protections for interns in federally regulated workplaces, regardless of pay. Additionally, the government has signalled its intent to “clarify the circumstances under which unpaid internships can be offered.” Currently, the Code relies on the common law employment relationship test to determine whether an intern is considered an employee and thus subject to the provisions of the Code. In the past few years, unpaid internships have attracted increased scrutiny due to a few high-profile cases of abuse or workplace accidents.
Increased enforcement of occupational health and safety protections
Budget 2015 provides funding to support the hiring of additional health and safety officers (HSOs), who are responsible under the Code for investigating occupational health and safety complaints and violations. These additional HSOs are intended to improve coverage and response “especially in remote, high-risk sectors, helping to prevent workplace accidents and fatalities.”
Implementation of measures
The proposals summarized above have not yet been implemented in law. Past budgetary cycles would suggest the introduction of a budget implementation act in the weeks following the introduction of Budget 2015 that could enact some, but not all, of the proposed measures. Such an implementation act would include details on the measures proposed in Budget 2015 and will be of interest to federally regulated employers. We will continue to monitor and update on these developments in order to prepare our clients for their compliance with any new legislative requirements.