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Overhauling Alberta's Workplace Laws: What Employers Need to Know about Bill 17

May 25, 2017

Overhauling Alberta’s Workplace Laws: What Employers Need to Know about Bill 17

Bill 17, the Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act, was introduced to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta yesterday afternoon, May 24, 2017.  The Bill contains extensive amendments to the Employment Standards Code and the Labour Relations Code, both core pieces of legislation governing Alberta’s workplaces.
The Bill, which is not yet law, is expected to pass in the near future.  Once passed, it will come into force on January 1, 2018.
This is a significant development with far reaching cost and operational implications for all provincially-regulated employers in Alberta.  Some of the more notable proposed changes include:
EMPLOYMENT STANDARDS
Leaves of absence

  • Establishing a variety of new, unpaid leaves of absence available to employees, and modifying some eligibility requirements and protections for existing leaves, including the following:
    • leave of up to 16 weeks per year for long term sickness or injury;
    • leave of up to 5 days per year for personal sickness of an employee or an employee’s immediate family member. This leave will include caregiving responsibilities related to the education of children;
    • leave of up to 3 days per year for bereavement of an immediate family member; and
    • leave of up to 10 days per year for employees addressing situations of domestic violence.
  • Compassionate Care Leave will be expanded to:
    • grant leave of up to 27 weeks (currently 8 weeks); and
    • be available for non-primary caregivers.
  • Maternity and Parental Leave will be expanded to:
    • extend maternity leave to 16 weeks (currently 15 weeks); and
    • extend parental leave to 52 weeks (currently 37 weeks).

Overtime

  • Overtime agreements will allow time to be banked for 6 months (currently 3 months), with banking to be calculated at time and one half rather than the current hour for hour calculation.

General Holiday Pay

  • Relaxing the restrictions on holiday pay eligibility, and clarifying the formula by which holiday pay is to be calculated.

Termination

  • Employers will be prohibited from unilaterally requiring the usage of vacation or overtime during a termination notice period; and
  • Notice requirements for group terminations will be increased and scaled based on the number of employees being terminated:
    • 8 weeks’ notice where 50-100 employees are terminated;
    • 12 weeks’ notice where 101-300 employees are terminated; and
    • 16 weeks’ notice where greater than 300 employees are terminated.

Temporary Layoff

  • Temporary layoffs will be limited to 60 days within a 120 day period unless wages and benefits are paid and the employee consents to an extension of the period.

Enforcement and Administration

  • The Government is proposing to introduce an administrative penalty system to punish employers that fail to comply with the Employment Standards Code. The time period to commence prosecution would be increased from 1 to 2 years after the non-compliance occurred; and
  • The hearing of appeals will shift from Umpires (Provincial Court judges) to an appeal body, which the Government proposes to be members of the Labour Relations Board.

LABOUR RELATIONS
Certification

  • The landscape for unionization will be dramatically altered by moving from a vote-based system to a card-based system of certification, including automatic certification allowing a union to demonstrate it has the support of more than 65% of the proposed bargaining unit. A vote would be held where the union is able to demonstrate 40% to 65% support; and
  • Imposing strict time limits on the timing of any certification vote relative to the date of application for certification.

Entitlement to Unionization

  • Expanding the definition of employees to include dependent contractors, permitting these individuals to bargain collectively with other employees; and
  • Expanding the scope of the Labour Relations Code to include Farm and Ranch workers (excepting family members).

Access to Employees by Union Representatives

  • Giving the Board the power to require the employer to provide union representatives with access to employees residing on the employer’s property for the purposes of persuading the employees to join a trade union, and potentially requiring the employer to feed and lodge these union representatives in a similar manner as its employees.

Mandatory Union Deductions and Remittance

  • Requiring the inclusion of a “Rand Formula” provision in every collective agreement, effectively requiring the mandatory deduction and remittance of union dues for all unionized employers.

Strikes and Lockouts and First Contract Arbitration

  • Making first contract arbitration available on application to the Board;
  • In certain circumstances, permitting secondary picketing of third parties who assist an employer in resisting a lockout as well as any secondary premises owned by the same employer which are being used to further a lockout or resist a strike; and
  • Designating a variety of continuing care and health care facilities as “essential services”, requiring the establishment of essential services agreements to ensure continued operation during a strike or lockout.

Unfair Labour Practices

  • Giving the Board the power to impose automatic certification of a union, without a vote, in the event an employer is found to have engaged in an unfair labour practice, or automatic revocation of a union’s certification, without a vote, in the event the union is found to have engaged in an unfair labour practice.

Specific Changes relating to the Construction Industry

  • All provisions of the Labour Relations Code dealing with Market Enhancement Recovery Funds in the construction industry will be removed;
  • Certain qualifications which currently must be met before an individual employed in the construction industry is entitled to vote in a certification or revocation vote will be repealed. It remains to be seen whether this has any practical impact, as these same qualifications are contained in the Board’s Voting Rules, which are not impacted by the Bill; and
  • Parent unions of Alberta’s building trade unions will be required to negotiate with employers through the registration bargaining system.

Although the proposed changes are not yet law, they will have significant impacts on Albertan employers should they take effect.  It appears that the Government intends to pass these amendments in the next 2 weeks and it is unlikely that many changes will be made before the summer recess of the Legislature.  Depending on how they are ultimately implemented, these items may result in significant cost implications to employers, along with increased regulatory and administrative requirements.
Employers should consider how these changes may impact their business, and begin to consider steps to reduce the negative impact of these changes on business operations.
If you have questions regarding the impact of these changes, or steps you can take to reduce their impact, please do not hesitate to contact a Mathews Dinsdale lawyer in our Alberta office.
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