Alberta: New Law Overhauls Most of Workplace Law
New Legislation Enacted
The new “Fair and Family-Friendly Workplaces Act” substantially changes the Employment Standards Code (ESC) and the Labour Relations Code (LRC) in Alberta, and represents the most significant overhaul of Alberta workplace law in three decades. The majority of changes to the ESC come into effect on January 1, 2018, and include: (1) a new 90-day threshold, rather than one year of continuous employment with the same employer, for a leave of absence; (2) an extension of maternity leave from 15 to 16 weeks, and compassionate care leave from 8 to 27 weeks; and (3) new leaves, including: 16 weeks for longer-tem illness or injury; 10 days for domestic violence; 36 weeks for childcare of a critically ill child; and 52 or 104 weeks respectively for a crime-related disappearance or death of a child; among other leaves. Further changes include new rules for overtime banking agreements, public holiday pay, vacations, and rules surrounding terminations and mass terminations, and enforcement. Changes to the LRC include new union certification rules, including a move to card-only certification where more than 65% employees sign cards. The changes to certification come into effect September 1, 2017.
Ontario: Employer Sentenced to 30 Days in Prison for Non-Payment of Wages
Precedential Decision by Judiciary or Regulatory Agency
The former owner of two defunct businesses has been sentenced to 30 days in prison for nonpayment of more than $125,000 in wages owed to 43 employees. The employer was convicted of failing to comply with an Order to Pay made by the Ministry of Labour in 2015. In addition to the prison term, the employer was fined $20,000 for failure to comply and assessed a 25% victim fine surcharge under the Provincial Offences Act. Under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA), a person who fails to comply with an order may be jailed up to 12 months and fined up to $50,000 personally. Prison time for such offences in Ontario is rare, with fewer than 10 sentences imposed on employers in the last 20 years. The fines on a corporation can range from $100,000 to $500,000. This 30-day sentence comes at a time when the Ontario Ministry of Labour has committed to increasing enforcement of the ESA.
British Columbia: Regulation Bans Requiring High Heels in the Workplace
New Regulation or Official Guidance
The British Columbia government is banning high heel requirements by amending s. 8.22 and adding additional guidelines under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations specifically addressing high heels. According to the regulation, footwear in the workplace must be of a “design, construction and material appropriate to the protection required” and must allow the worker to perform their work safely. Considerations taken into account by WorkSafeBC include hazards such as slipping, tripping, uneven terrain, abrasion, ankle protection, foot support and potential for musculoskeletal injury. The guidelines from WorkSafeBC state that walking in 1.5” or taller heels significantly reduces ankle and muscle movement thereby reducing balance control. In workplaces where a substantial number of the considerations apply, such as establishments in the hospitality industry, dress codes requiring employees to wear high heels would violate the new regulation.
Ontario: Bill 148 Will Significantly Change Ontario Employment Law
Proposed Bill or Initiative
Bill 148, known as the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017, seeks to enact, inter alia, (1) an increase of 22.8% in the minimum wage (from $11.40 to $14.00 per hour in January 2018 and $15 per hour in 2019; (2) three weeks paid vacation for qualifying employees; (3) new rules for calculating public holiday pay and providing holidays in lieu; (4) an extension of family medical leave to 26 weeks (from the current 8); (5) a new leave for death or disappearance of a child; (6) new rules for equal pay for equal work; and (7) a specific prohibition against misclassifying an employee as an “independent contractor” with potential penalties under the ESA, up to and including prosecution, among other important provisions. Changes to the Ontario Labour Relations Act (OLRA) include new “card certification” measures for the homecare, community services, building services, and temporary help agency industries. If Bill 148 becomes law, it will come into effect on January 1, 2018.
Canada: Recreational Marijuana Legalization
Proposed Bill or Initiative
In April 2017, the Liberal government introduced Bill C-45 that would legalize marijuana Canada-wide by July 2018 and modify various criminal offences and penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana. The legislation also sets limits for THC in the blood and assigns various penalties up to and including imprisonment for 10 years. Employers in safety-sensitive industries should ensure healthy and safe workplaces following legalization. Unless clarified by government guidance, the ongoing uncertainty about drug-testing in various workplaces will continue to pose challenges for workplace safety in light of marijuana legalization. Additionally, employers should continue to be vigilant and mindful of their duty to accommodate employees with a substance abuse disability.