Alberta’s Government is on the verge of passing Bill 17, the Fair and Family-Friendly Workplaces Act, which contains significant amendments to both the Employment Standards Code (the “Code”) and the Labour Relations Code (the “LR Code”). Most of the amendments will come into force on January 1, 2018 and will affect all union and non-union employers operating in Alberta.

Alberta’s employment and labour standards statutes have not been substantially amended since 1988 and although some of these changes can be seen as bringing Alberta in line with other Canadian jurisdictions, certain changes are dramatic including, in particular, the partial elimination of secret ballot voting on union certification. In this article, we take a closer look at specific changes that will be material to Alberta employers:

  • Introduction of new job protected leaves and increased maternity, parental and compassionate care leave entitlements;
  • Changing the framework for banking overtime;
  • Expanding employee eligibility for statutory holiday pay;
  • Elimination of secret ballot union certification votes in circumstances where a union has obtained signed membership cards from 66% or more of the would be bargaining unit;
  • Extending the maximum period of unionization campaigns from 90 days to 6 months;
  • Upon an allegation of non-compliance, employers will bear the onus to prove that their actions, including termination of someone’s employment, are compliant with the LR Code; and
  • Confirmation that both employees and dependent contractors are entitled to union protection under the LR Code.

Maternity and Parental Leave

  • Maternity leave will increase from 15 weeks to 16 weeks and the amount of time an employee must be employed to be entitled to parental leave will decrease from 52 weeks to 90 days.

New and Enhanced Job Protected Leaves

  • Compassionate Care leave will increase from 8 weeks to 27 weeks and will have more employee friendly qualification conditions, including a reduction in the period of employment required to qualify for this leave and expanding coverage to individuals other than the primary care giver.
  • New job protected leaves will be implemented, including: Long-term Illness and Injury leave (up to 16 weeks), Domestic Violence leave (up to 10 days per year), Critical Illness of Child leave (up to 36 weeks), Death or Disappearance of a Child leave (up to 52 weeks or 104 weeks), Personal and Family Responsibility leave (up to 5 days per year), Bereavement leave and Citizenship Ceremony leave (up to 1/2 day per year).

Overtime and Hours of Work

  • Overtime agreements which provide for time off with pay instead of overtime pay will bank overtime at a rate of 1.5 hours for each overtime hour rather than banking hours at straight time.
  • Hours billed pursuant to an overtime agreement will be able to be taken within 6 months of when they were banked, as opposed to the current 3 month limitation.
  • If applicable to a group of employees, compressed work week agreements must be part of a collective agreement or be implemented with the consent of the majority of the employees.

Statutory Holiday Eligibility

  • Employee eligibility for general holiday pay will be relaxed by eliminating the previous requirement of a specified period of employment prior to the holiday and the requirement that the holiday fall on a normal work day for the employee.

Other Changes to the Code

  • Increases in the restrictions in employing youth and stronger enforcement mechanisms for contraventions of the Code by employers.

Elimination of Secret Ballot

  • If between 40% and 65% of employees sign union cards, a secret vote would then be required to certify a union. However, if greater than 65% of employees sign cards in favour of a union, such a vote is not required to take place and certification will be automatic.
  • Certification campaigns will be able to last up to 6 months, rather than the current 90 days.

Unfair Labour Practice

  • Employers will now bear the burden to prove its innocence upon any allegations or complaints involving unfair labour practices.

Addition of Dependent Contractors

  • The definition of “employee” under the LR Code will be expanded such that unions will now be able to represent “dependent contractors” who work for one employer.

Employers should use the next 6 months to consider these amendments and implement any necessary changes required to ensure compliance with the Code and LR Code. If you have any questions about the sweeping amendments to Alberta’s employment standards and labour relations regimes, do not hesitate to contact the authors directly or any member of our Employment, Labour and Equalities Group.