On July 29, 2020, Bill 32, the Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act received Royal Assent. The Bill will make a number of changes to Alberta's Employment Standards Code. The goal of the Bill is to provide both employees and employers with more transparent rules that promote fairness and productivity, including more clarity with regards to rest periods, temporary layoff notices, general holiday pay, and other changes.
Changes in the Employment Standards Code would take effect November 1, 2020, except for the following changes which will take effect August 15, 2020.
Termination pay and layoffs
The length of temporary layoffs, where an employee will not lose their job, is to be extended to 90 days within a 120 day period.
If a layoff was due to COVID-19, separate rules allow employees to be laid off for 180 consecutive days as established under the COVID-19 Pandemic Response Statutes Amendment Act.
In terms of group termination, you will not need to give group termination notice to employees or unions.
There will be one set of rules for all terminations of 50 or more people in a four-week period rather than different requirements depending on the number of employees being terminated.
You will still need to give the Minister of Labour and Immigration four weeks notice, or as much time as is reasonable, if you terminate more than 50 employees at a single location.
The time in which you are required to pay terminated employees their final pay will be extended to:
- 10 consecutive days after the end of the pay period in which they were terminated, or;
- 31 consecutive days after the last day of employment
General holiday pay
Average daily wage will not include vacation pay and general holiday pay in the calculation. Instead, It would change to be the employee’s total wages averaged over the number of days they worked in the:
- 4 weeks immediately before the general holiday; or
- 4 weeks ending on the last day of the pay period that occurred just before the general holiday
Overpayment of wages
If you have overpaid an employee due to a payroll error, or for vacation pay paid in advance, you would no longer need to obtain written permission from your employee(s) to deduct the overpayment from their pay cheque.
Rest periods and hours of work
You will have to give your employees at least 30 minutes of rest every 5 hours for shifts that are longer than 5 hours. The rest period can be within or immediately after the 5 hours of work, or at any time mutually agreed upon by both yourself and your employee(s).
In terms of hours of work, more flexible rules for averaging arrangements are to be put forward, that would make it easier to set up arrangements, create schedules and calculate overtime. With this new Bill, you would need no longer need your employee's consent to start or change an "hours of work averaging arrangement." Instead, you could simply give your employee(s) 2 weeks’ notice. Further changes to averaging agreements would be:
- Arrangements could have an averaging period of up to 52 weeks;
- Arrangements would no longer need to have an end date;
- You could negotiate with employees how to handle schedule changes or missed shifts but employees must get 8 hours of rest between shifts if there is a schedule change;
- You would not have to provide daily overtime, unless daily overtime is included as part of the arrangement;
- The weekly overtime threshold would apply, regardless whether daily overtime is included in the arrangement or not.
You will be able to hire 13 and 14-year-olds for specific job without getting a permit first. Types of jobs include light janitorial work in offices, coaching and tutoring. It also includes some jobs in the food service industry if the youth is working with someone 18 or older.
There are a number of proposed changes to union relations:
- Employees will be able to opt-in to pay the portion of union dues that go towards funding political parties and causes. Employees will still be required to pay union dues that are used for core union activities, such as collective bargaining and representing members’ interests.
- Unions would not be able to discipline employees if they take significantly different work from a different employer.
- Union certification and revocation timelines will be removed to reduce red tape. That said, the applications should still be processed as soon as possible, and no later than six months after the date of application. The six month deadline may be extended depending on exceptional circumstances.
- Legislation will specify when remedial certification can be used. Generally, it is used by labour boards to certify unions when there is no other way to counteract an employer’s misconduct and therefore the true wishes of employees can’t be determined in a vote.
- Employers and unions could agree to alter employment standards rules for hours of work, notice of work times, days of rest, and overtime hours under hours of work averaging arrangements.
- Employers and unions could renew a collective agreement before it expires if employees give their consent. The Labour Relations Board would oversee this process to make sure an agreement is only renewed early if employees consent.
- Employers could ask for Labour Relations Board orders on illegal strikes and picketing to be filed with the courts. The Labour Relations Board will have additional criteria to determine whether picketing is lawful. Employers might have to continue employees’ payment of union dues during an illegal lockout. Additionally, If employees are on an illegal strike, they might stop paying union dues if directed by the Labour Relations Board.
- If a complaint is made against an employer, the employer would be responsible for proving they did nothing wrong only when the complaint is about an employee being unfairly terminated.
Changes specific to the construction sector
- If employees in the construction sector choose a new union, the existing collective agreement would still apply until it expires. Arbitration would be used to help parties reach and renegotiate collective agreements. That said, International unions and their locals would still follow existing rules in provincial collective agreements.
- Industrial unions would be able to form “all employee units” by representing all employees who work for the same employer, regardless of their trade.
- Building trades unions would continue to certify their members on a craft-by-craft basis.
- Employers will have more clarity and certainty on major construction projects, encouraging investment, and may have less administrative work related to unionized employees in industrial construction and maintenance.
- Major construction projects could be approved by a minister instead of Cabinet. The minister would have 120 days to respond to a major project application, with the possibility of extending the timeline.
- Construction project owners could also be principal contractors when negotiating a major project agreement and these projects can be renegotiated, and construction projects could have more than one project agreement.
- Principal contractors could delegate authority for bargaining, with consent from the Minister of Labour and Immigration.
- Maintenance workers are included in major projects, and wouldn’t have the right to strike and lockout.
Penalties, variances, and exceptions
As with the current employment standards code, if rules are broken, you will get a penalty. However, with this new Bill, the amount could be adjusted on a case-by-case basis and you will have more time to make the payment - up to 30 days.
More flexible rules would make it easier and quicker for employers to get approval for, and renew a variance or exemption. As an employer, you may write to the Minister of Labour to request an order to vary or exempt any provision under the Employment Standards Code or Regulation.
Variances or exemptions are exceptional, and certain criteria must be met and outlined in the application. Changes in the legislation will provide more flexible rules to make it easier and quicker for employers to get approval for, and renew a variance or exemption.