In the past few months, Alberta has seen legislative changes in human rights, employment standards and occupational health and safety legislation. This article summarizes key aspects of these changes.
Military Reservist Leave
The Alberta government has made legislative changes in the past year to provide job-protected leaves of absences for reservists working in Alberta. Bill 1 recently amended the Employment Standards Code, 2000 (ESC). The bill came into effect on June 30, 2009. The provincial reservist leave is quite similar to the federal reservist leave created under the Canada Labour Code in April 2008. Now all reservists working in Alberta, whether working in federally or provincially regulated workplaces, are potentially entitled to reservist leave. The federal and provincial regimes provide similar entitlements to employees, although the following summary discusses the Alberta legislation.
Employee Entitlement to Reservist Leave
Like other leaves of absences mandated by the ESC, military reservist leave is an unpaid, job-protected leave of absence. The ESC requires an employee to provide evidence that he or she is entitled to reservist leave. An employee who is a military reservist and who has completed at least twenty-six consecutive weeks of continuous employment with an employer, either full-time or part-time, is entitled to military reservist leave. Additionally, a reservist is entitled to leave for overseas deployment, deployment to an operation within Canada (in the event of an emergency such as a natural disaster), and training, if these began after June 30, 2009.
Requirement that Employee Gives Notice
The employee must provide at least four weeks’ written notice prior to the date the reservist leave is to start. The notice must include the estimated date of return (if the leave is with respect to an operation) or the actual date of return (if the leave is with respect to training). If an employee is unable to advise the employer before beginning his or her leave deployment, he or she must advise the employer as soon as possible after beginning his or her leave. If an employee does not provide written notice of his or her return to work and is on leave for more than four weeks, the employer may postpone the employee’s return to work for up to four weeks after the day the employee has advised that he or she is able to return to work. If the reservist has been on leave for less than four weeks, the employer will not have the option of delaying the return date.
Length of Military Reservist Leave of Absence
Leaves of absence for deployment continue as long as the deployment lasts. An employer may not consider the employee to have been terminated after a certain amount of time or impose a time limit on the leave. Reservists are entitled to up to 20 days of leave each calendar year for training.
Employee’s Return to Work at the Conclusion of Military Reservist Leave
As with other leaves of absence under the ESC, the employee must be reinstated to the same position he or she held prior to the leave. If the employee’s prior position no longer exists, the employer must provide him or her with a comparable position at an equal or higher rate of pay and benefits. If the employer has suspended its business while the employee is on reservist leave and resumes its business within 52 weeks following the end of the leave, the employer must reinstate the employee to the position occupied at the time the leave started or provide the employee with alternative work with no loss of seniority, benefits or pay.
Lessons for Employers
- Reservist leaves may come up on short notice because of the sensitive nature of Canadian forces deployments.
- Regardless of whether you have reservists currently working for your organization, you should review your human resources policies on leaves of absence.
- Collective agreements should be similarly reviewed and revised.
- Similar legislation currently exists at the federal level and at the provincial level in P.E.I., Nova Scotia, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Other provinces are likely to follow the trend by adopting their own military reservist leave legislation. If you have employees in other jurisdictions, you should consider your obligations across the country.
The Alberta provincial government has made changes to the Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Amendment Act. Changes include adding sexual orientation as a listed ground for complaint and confirming the rights of parents with regard to the education of their children. Parents or guardians will have the right to exempt their child from courses of study, programs or materials that include subject matter dealing explicitly with religious instruction, sexuality or sexual orientation. It should be noted that this process is already practiced in Alberta schools; this change merely reinforces that right.
Note also that funding has been increased by $1.7 million (a 26 per cent increase) to provide for the investigation and mediation of complaints in a more timely manner, so you should be prepared for quicker resolutions of complaints made against your organization.
Occupational Health & Safety
The Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Code 2009 has replaced the previous 2006 edition and came into effect on July 1, 2009. The majority of the changes reflect increased worksite safety rules. Examples of changes include:
Part 5 — "Confined Spaces" establishes the concept of a "restricted" space with less stringent requirements than a confined space.
Part 14 — "Lifting and Handling Loads" has been expanded to include requirements specific to patient/client/resident handling.
Part 28 — "Working Alone" revises the communication requirement so that it consists of effective electronic system plus regular contact. Previously, the requirement under the OHS Code 2006, was either an effective electronic system or regular contact.
You should check whether any of these changes apply to the specific areas in which your organization works.