Significant Changes to Workplace Legislation Expected in Alberta

June 2017

Article by: Jennifer Hogan

Update: Bill 17 received Royal Assent and will come into force on various dates.

On May 24, 2017, the Alberta Legislature introduced Bill 17: Fair and Family–friendly Workplaces Act.  The bill is part of the Government of Alberta’s effort to ensure that Albertans have “the same rights and protections enjoyed by other Canadians, and have fair and family-friendly workplace laws that support a strong economy and help businesses stay competitive.”

Alberta’s Employment Standards Code and Labour Relations Code both came into effect in 1988 and have not been significantly updated since that time. If passed, the legislation will make a number of updates to Alberta’s workplace legislation with respect to such things as family-friendly leaves, youth employment, workplace standards, administrative penalties, and labour relations.

Highlights of the proposed legislation are as follows:

Employment Standards Code

  • Enhancement of existing job-protected leaves, introduction of new categories of leave and reduction of eligibility requirements for new and existing leaves.
  • Promotion of decent work for youth, including setting the minimum age for light work and restricting the hours and duties youth are permitted to perform.
  • Modernization of workplace standards, including updating the rules around hours of work, rest periods and compressed work weeks; removing the minimum wage exception for persons with disabilities; clarifying wage deductions rules; and introducing minimum notice periods for termination by an employer.
  • Creation of an administrative penalty system, which would impose reasonable and enforceable penalties on an employer in the event of non-compliance with the legislation.

The majority of the proposed changes to the Employment Standards Code will come into force on January 1, 2018, with the exception of the provisions relating to youth employment, which will come into force upon proclamation.

Labour Relations Code

  • Implementation of first contract arbitration if the parties are unable to reach an agreement after 90 days.
  • Introduction of a hybrid system of certification, which would allow a union to be certified based on verified membership cards from more than 65% of employees. If between 40% and 65% of employees sign cards in favour of a union, the Labour Relations Board will retain the right to hold a vote.
  • Introduction of shorter, mandatory timelines for the certification process and tighter timelines for the decertification process.
  • Inclusion of “dependent contractors” as employees, which will allow contractors to unionize and bargain collectively and to be declared part of an existing bargaining unit upon application.
  • Provision of increased powers to the Labour Relations Board, including the ability to prohibit parties from making the same, or similar, applications by adjourning a matter indefinitely, and enhanced jurisdiction of arbitrators.
  • Expansion of essential services to include continuing care operations and extension of the statutory freeze period from 60 to 120 days.

Most of the proposed changes to the Labour Relations Code will come into force upon Royal Assent of the Bill.  Others, including the hybrid certification process, will come into force on September 1, 2017. Once the bill is passed, the provision relating to essential services will be deemed to have come into force on May 24, 2017.

Legal Implications for Employers

Progress of the bill has been delayed slightly due to a proposed amendment referring the bill to a Standing Committee for further consultation before it proceeds to Committee of the Whole. This may result in an amendment to the terms of the bill and/or the date of its implementation. That being said, given the widespread changes currently being proposed, employers should begin to consider how these changes may impact their workplace.

For example, while many employers already provide for working conditions that exceed minimum legislative requirements, the new administrative penalty system will introduce costs and administrative burdens for employers to contend with. Employers in non-unionized environments should ensure that any existing policies are in compliance with the aforementioned amendments. Similarly, employers in unionized environments may experience changes to their existing practices depending on the standards outlined in their collective agreements.

We will continue to monitor the status of the bill and will provide updates and ongoing analysis with respect to any amendments that may be introduced. Please contact us if you require assistance regarding the impact of these proposed legislative changes on your workplace.