Alberta Government Proposes Sweeping Changes to Workplace Legislation

Authors: Walter Pavlic, Q.C., Jean Torrens, Adam Kaukas

Following an abbreviated public consultation process (see our earlier blog post: Alberta Workplace Legislation Review: Call for Public Consultation) the Alberta Government has introduced a proposal to make sweeping changes to Alberta’s workplace legislation.

The proposed changes were introduced on May 24, 2017 as part of Bill 17: The Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act. If Bill 17 is passed by the legislature, it is expected to come into force on January 1, 2018, and will usher in significant changes to the Employment Standards Code and the Labour Relations Code.

The proposed changes to the legislation are expansive and will require close and careful consideration. The most significant proposed changes, but far from all of the proposed changes, are summarized below.

Most Significant Changes to the Employment Standards Code:

  • Statutory leaves of absence would be available to all employees with 90 days of service or more, as opposed to the current one year eligibility requirement.
  • Existing protected leaves of absence for compassionate care leave and parental leave would be increased significantly.
  • A bevy of new protected leaves of absence would be introduced, including long-term illness and injury leave, personal and family responsibility leave, bereavement leave, domestic violence leave, critical illness of a child leave, and death or disappearance of a child leave.
  • Banked overtime would be calculated and provided as time in lieu at a rate of 1.5x for all hours worked, rather than hour-for-hour.
  • All employees would be eligible for general holiday pay, regardless of length of service or whether the holiday falls on a regular working day.
  • Notice requirements for group termination would be increased and scaled according to the number of employees terminated.

Most Significant Changes to the Labour Relations Code:

  • The onus of proof in unfair labour relations complaints would be reversed so that the employer would have to prove its actions did not constitute an unfair labour practice.
  • Dependent contractors who only work for one employer would be allowed to unionize.
  • Restrictions on secondary picketing would be removed.
  • Unions and employers would be allowed to ask for a supervised strike or lockout vote prior to the expiry of the collective agreement.
  • Most importantly, the process for certifying a new trade union – and decertifying bargaining units already in place – would be changed to a hybrid model using both card-certification and secret vote certification, depending upon the amount of initial support for certification. If between 40% and 65% of employees sign cards in favour of a union, a secret vote would then be required to certify a union. If more than 65% sign cards, no second ballot would be required. The Labour Relations Board would retain the ability to require a second ballot for any application should there be doubt as to the authenticity of the support, or in any other situation the Board feels a vote is necessary.

The changes proposed in Bill 17 will have a wide-ranging and significant effect on all employers in Alberta.

All employers should be mindful of the proposed changes and proactive in reviewing and revising all employment policies, agreements and procedures to ensure compliance with the new statutory requirements.

Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.