Alberta Government Proposes Significant Changes for Workplaces through Bill 32

Authors: Samantha Finkbeiner, Walter Pavlic, K.C., Megan Kheong, Aaron Marchadour

On July 7, 2020, the Government of Alberta introduced Bill 32, the Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act (“Bill 32”), which proposes several key changes to Alberta’s labour and employment legislation.

If passed, Bill 32 is expected to come into force in a number of stages and will bring several key changes. Some of the most significant proposed changes to Alberta’s Employment Standards Code and Labour Relations Code are highlighted below.

Proposed Changes to the Employment Standards Code

  • Temporary layoffs: The temporary layoff period will be extended from 60 days to 90 days within a 120-day period. Following the 90-day period, a temporary layoff will be deemed a termination. Specific timing requirements for temporary layoff notices will be removed.

It should be noted that under Bill 24, COVID-19 Pandemic Response Statutes Amendment Act, 2020, which came into force on June 26, 2020, employees can be laid off for up to 180 consecutive days before they are deemed to be terminated if the temporary layoff is related to COVID-19.

  • Group termination: Group termination rules will be simplified so there is only one set of rules that will be applicable for all terminations of 50 or more people within a four-week period.
  • Final pay deadline: The timelines for an employer to issue final pay following termination of an employee’s employment will be simplified. When an employee’s employment terminates (whether by the employer or employee) the employer must pay the employee’s earnings either a) 10 consecutive days after the end of the pay period in which the termination of employment occurs, or 31 consecutive days after the last day of employment.
  • Overpayment recovery: An employer will now be able to recover an overpayment made to an employee due to a payroll calculation error or to vacation pay being paid in advance of the employee being entitled to it within six months of the error being made. Employee consent will no longer be required for overpayment recovery; however, the employer will be required to provide the employee advance written notice.
  • Rest periods: Employees will still be entitled to 30 minute rest periods for every five hours worked; however, employees will be able to take the rest period either within or immediately following the five hours of work, or at any other time agreed upon by the employer and the employee.
  • Holiday pay calculations: Employees will still be entitled to general holiday pay; however, average daily wage calculation for the purposes of calculating holiday pay will be simplified and will no longer include vacation or holiday pay.
  • Deviation from rules through collective agreements: Employers and unions may be able to deviate from certain employment standards (e.g., hours of work, notice of work times) through the terms of a collective bargaining agreement.

Proposed Changes to the Labour Relations Code

  • Reverse onus rules: reverse onus rules have been amended by Bill 32. Now, the reverse onus on the employer in section 149(2) of the Labour Relations Code is limited to cases of dismissal or discharge only. Bill 32 also adds a reverse onus for unions in cases where they used intimidation or coercion in organization campaigns, or breached provisions relating to opt-in.
  • Consequences for prohibited practices by union: unions may be refused certification if they conduct certain prohibited practices which have the effect of interfering with a certification campaign. A union would then be required to wait six months to apply for certification, instead of 90 days.
  • Secondary picketing: A union will be required to apply for and be granted an order from the Alberta Labour Relations Board in order to engage in secondary picketing activity at any location aside from the employees’ workplace. The Alberta Labour Relations Board will also have the authority to make declarations within the order governing secondary picketing activity.
  • Union dues for political activities: Unions will be required to disclose the amount or percentage of union dues put towards political activities, charities or non-governmental organizations, or general social causes or issues. Employees will still be required to pay union dues used for core union activities; however, employees will not be required to pay the portion of union dues used for political activities, unless they elect to do so.
  • Union financial statements: Unions will be required to provide financial statements to their members every fiscal year.
  • Remedial certification: The Alberta Labour Relations Board will still be able to certify a trade union as a remedy to a prohibited practice by the employer resulting in an improper representation vote; however, only in circumstances where no other remedy is sufficient.
  • Refusal to certify: The Alberta Labour Relations Board will still be able to refuse to certify a trade union where a prohibited practice by the trade union results in an improper representation vote; however, only where no other remedy is sufficient.
  • Illegal strikes or lockouts: The Alberta Labour Relations Board may direct the employer to suspend union dues for employees participating in an illegal strike, or direct the employer to collect and remit union dues where there is an illegal lockout.
  • Arbitrator powers: Arbitrators will no longer be able to provide relief from time limits under the Labour Relations Code.

Please note that this article only highlights a small selection of the many changes proposed under Bill 32. All employers governed by Alberta labour and employment legislation should be mindful of the full list of changes, which can be reviewed here, and the significant effect they could have on your workforce. MLT Aikins is available to help employers better understand these changes and the particular impact they may have on your organization.