On March 22, the 2017 federal budget, Building a Strong Middle Class Through Innovation, was released. Among its myriad proposals, several anticipated changes related to families and leaves will affect employers, including amendments to the Employment Insurance Act and the Canada Labour Code. While the changes to the Canada Labour Code will be limited to federally regulated employers, all employers may be affected by changes to the Employment Insurance Act.

Proposed Changes:

Changes to the Canada Labour Code:

  • the right for federally-regulated employees to request flexible work arrangements (e.g., start and finish times, and ability to work from home);
  • elimination of internships in federally-regulated sectors not part of formal education programs;
  • unpaid leave to: (i) take care of family responsibilities; (ii) participate in traditional indigenous practices; and (iii) seek care if they are victims of family violence; and
  • additional flexibility for bereavement leave.

To discourage contravention and assist employees in recovering wages, additional funding will also be given towards ensuring employers comply with the Canada Labour Code.

Changes to the Employment Insurance Act:

  • the time a parent can receive Employment Insurance (EI) benefits will be extended from 12 months to 18 months. However, if an employee elects to receive benefits over a longer period of time, the benefits will be paid out at a lower rate;
  • expectant mothers can claim EI maternity benefits up to 12 weeks before their due date (it is currently up to eight weeks prior to the due date);
  • a new EI caregiving benefit, which gives eligible caregivers up to 15 weeks of EI benefits when temporarily away from work to support a critically ill or injured family member; and
  • broadening worker eligibility for EI-funded skills training and employment support.

Accessibility

Federal accessibility legislation will be developed toward the promotion and inclusion of employees with disabilities in the workplace.

Key Takeaways

1. Limited Scope of Proposed Changes

While the proposed amendments to the Employment Insurance Act apply generally to all employers, amendments to the Canada Labour Code will only apply to employers that operate in federally-regulated sectors.

2. Provincial Ripple Effect

Several provinces are currently conducting reviews of their own labour and employment laws, with a view towards reform. In Ontario, the Changing Workplaces Review, which considers amendments to both the Labour Relations Act and the Employment Standards Act, is in its final stages. Similarly, Alberta began a review of its equivalent employment and labour relations legislation this month.

It will be interesting to watch how the provincial legislatures respond to the changes proposed by the federal government. The employment standards legislation (e.g., Ontario Employment Standards Act, 2000) in most provinces currently entitles an employee to up to 52 weeks of maternity (pregnancy/parental) leave. Unless the provincial legislatures amend their respective employment standards legislation, there could be a situation where the employee may extend their maternity leave benefits under the Employment Insurance Act for up to 18 months, but the employee is only permitted a statutory leave of 52 weeks or 12 months under employment standards legislation. In the absence of changes to provincial employment standards legislation employers should expect requests by employees to grant the employee an extended voluntary leave so the employee's maternity leave can match the period in which the employee is entitled to EI benefits.

3. It’s in the Details

The 2017 budget amendments are, generally, still in their proposed form. The exact provisions in the legislative amendments and manner of application are not yet known and we will update you further as the specific legislative changes are outlined in more detail.