Introduction

As announced, the Canada Labour Code (the “Code”) has been thoroughly revamped effective September 1st, 2019, with the coming into force of several amendments to Part III.

The new provisions reflect Parliament’s intent, through the introduction of a range of more flexible labour standards, to achieve a better work-family balance, and to protect workers in insecure situations.

A variety of amendments in force since September 1st, 2019

The amendments canvassed below are of particular interest for employers under federal jurisdiction. Some of the new provisions are subject to exemptions or conditions that are not dealt with in this article. Some adaptations may apply to employers with unionized workers.

Here is an executive summary of these amendments:

1. Elimination of minimum period of employment for benefit eligibility

The Government has eliminated the minimum eligibility period for the following benefits:

  • Holiday pay;
  • Leave for medical reasons (sick leave);
  • Maternity leave and parental leave;
  • Leave in case of serious illness;
  • Leave in case of the death or disappearance of a child.

2. Requests for flexible work arrangements

  • An employee who has worked continuously for an employer for six consecutive months may request a change to:
    • the number of hours the employee is required to work;
    • the employee’s work schedule;
    • the employee’s location of work;
    • any condition of employment applicable to the employee that is prescribed by regulation.
  • The request must be sent in writing.
  • An employer to whom such a request is made may:
    • grant the request;
    • offer to grant the request in part;
    • agree to make alternative changes to the terms and conditions of employment;
    • refuse the request on certain prescribed grounds (as described hereafter).
  • The employee’s request may be refused on the following grounds:
    • the change would result in additional costs that would be a burden on the employer;
    • the change would have a detrimental impact on the quality or quantity of work within the employer’s establishment, on the ability to meet customer demand or on any other aspect of performance within the establishment;
    • the employer is unable to reorganize work or recruit additional employees in order to manage the requested change;
    • there would be insufficient work available for the employee if the change was granted;
    • any other ground prescribed by regulation.

3. Improvement to annual paid vacations

  • An employee is entitled to an annual vacation with vacation pay equal to:
    • 4% of their wages, for a period of at least two weeks, after at least one year of employment;
    • 6% of their wages, for a period of at least three weeks, after at least five years of employment;
    • 8% of their wages, for a period of at least four weeks, after at least ten years of employment.

4. Improvements to paid leave

  • Leave for victims of family violence*An employee who is a victim of family violence is entitled to leave up to 10 days per calendar year.
  • Personal leave*An employee is entitled to leave up to five days per calendar year for:
    • treating his/her illness or injury;
    • carrying out responsibilities related to the health or care of family members;
    • carrying out responsibilities related to the education of any family member who is under 18 years of age;
    • addressing any urgent matter concerning themselves or family members;
    • attending their citizenship ceremony under the Citizenship Act;
    • any other reason prescribed by regulation.
  • Bereavement leave*An employee is entitled to bereavement leave up to five days.

    *The first three days of leave for victims of family violence, personal leave and bereavement leave are with pay if the employee has worked continuously for the employer for at least three consecutive months.

5. Improvements to unpaid leave

  • Leave for traditional aboriginal practicesAn Aboriginal employee who has completed three consecutive months of continuous employment is entitled to leave up to five days per calendar year in order to engage in traditional Aboriginal practices, including hunting, fishing and harvesting.

    The term “Aboriginal” means Indian, Inuit or Métis.

    This leave is unpaid.

  • Medical leaveAn employee is entitled to medical leave up to 17 weeks for:
    • personal illness or injury;
    • organ or tissue donation;
    • medical appointments during working hours.
  • Leave for court or jury dutyAn employee is entitled to leave to attend court in order to:
    • act as a witness;
    • act as a juror;
    • participate in a jury selection process.

6. Work schedule, overtime, breaks and rest periods

  • Changes to work periods or shifts*
    • The employer must give the employee written notice at least 24 hours before (i) the employee’s original work period or shift begin, or (ii) before the period or shift that results from the change is to begin.
  • Addition of a work period or shift*
    • The employer must give the employee written notice of at least 24 hours before the added work period or shift begins.

* However, notice is not required if the change to or addition of a work period or shift is necessary to deal with a situation the employer could not have reasonably foreseen or that could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent or serious threat.

  • Notice of work scheduleThe employer must provide employees with their work schedule in writing at least 96 hours before the start of the employee’s first work period or shift under that schedule.

    However, an employee cannot refuse to work in a situation where no such notice was given if it is necessary for the employee to work in order to deal with a situation the employer could not have reasonably foreseen or that could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent or serious threat.

  • OvertimeEmployees who work overtime are entitled to be paid at an increased rate or to be granted not less than one and one-half hours of time off for each hour of overtime worked.
  • Refusal to work overtimeAn employee may refuse to work the overtime requested by the employer in order to carry out family responsibilities, provided the employee has taken reasonable steps to have those responsibilities carried out by other means but is nevertheless still required to carry them out during the overtime period.
  • Break and rest periodsDuring every period of five consecutive hours of work, an employee is entitled to an unpaid break of at least 30 minutes.

    If the employee must remain at the employer’s disposal during the break period, the employee must be paid for the break.

    An employee is entitled to a rest period of at least eight consecutive hours between work periods or shifts.

  • Breaks for medical reasons or for nursingAn employee is entitled to any unpaid breaks that are necessary for medical reasons, including nursing or expressing breast milk.

    If requested by the employer, the employee must provide a certificate issued by a health care professional specifying the length and frequency of the breaks needed for medical reasons.

Conclusion

In light of the foregoing, any federally regulated organization must ensure that its practices, policies and labour and employment agreements are in line with the new standards. It will also be important to closely monitor recent developments and how the new standards are interpreted.

It should also be noted that several further amendments have been made to the Code but are not yet in force, particularly in respect of:

  • Dismissals;
  • Temporary help agencies.