Employment Law Considerations for Rural Municipalities in Saskatchewan

Municipalities have unique labour and employment obligations that may be often difficult to navigate. Saskatchewan Rural Municipalities (“RMs”) should consider seeking proactive legal advice regarding labour and employment issues before they arise.

This article provides a broad overview of some key legislative and best practices considerations for municipal workplaces, including compliance with various statutes respecting their obligations as an employer. This includes, among others, The Saskatchewan Employment Act (SEA) and its regulations, The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, 2018 (SHRC), The Municipalities Act, and The Rural Municipal Administrators Act. In addition, some RMs have unionized work environments which warrant additional considerations.

Some important aspects of these obligations are highlighted below:

Employee Code of Conduct

RMs are required to have a code of conduct publicly available for employees, which includes rules surrounding conflicts of interest. The Municipalities Act describes what must be included in a code of conduct including, for example, procedures that must be followed if an employee suspects a conflict, and how conflicts will be resolved.

Employment Standards

There may be special considerations for RM employees regarding hours of work and overtime. Generally, managers are not entitled to overtime pay. The Employment Standards Regulations also provides that some employees of an RM are exempt from restrictions on requirements for overtime, overtime pay and modified work arrangements. This exemption generally applies to road construction or maintenance employees and those employees who service or repair road construction or maintenance equipment off-site. 

Occupational Health and Safety Considerations

Much of the maintenance work performed by RM employees could be considered safety-sensitive work. RMs should be especially mindful of their occupational health and safety (“OH&S”) obligations and take a proactive approach to OH&S. Two important considerations for RMs in this respect are described below:

  • Occupational Health Committee – Every workplace that has 10 or more workers is required by the SEA to establish an Occupational Health Committee. Further, RM workplaces with fewer than 10 workers that do road construction, earthwork and urban sewer duties, among others, may also be required to establish a committee. The duties of occupational health committees, as specified in section 3-27 of the SEA, include participating in the identification and control of hazards, establishing, promoting and recommending the means of delivery of OH&S programs for the education of workers, investigating when a worker refuses work alleged to be dangerous and carrying out other legislative responsibilities.
  • Harassment Policy – Rural municipalities must also have a workplace harassment policy in place for employees, as this applies to every workplace in the province. For more on this requirement, see our prior post: SUMA and SARM Launch Harassment Prevention Policy Template for Municipalities.

Human Rights Considerations

In Saskatchewan, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against someone based on religion, creed, marital status, family status, sex, sexual orientation, disability, age, colour, ancestry, nationality, place of origin, race or perceived race, receipt of public assistance and gender identity. In many circumstances, the SHRC creates a duty for employers such as RMs to accommodate employees to the point of undue hardship if the conditions of their employment need to be changed because of these grounds. It is important for RMs to know about the different ways discrimination can be expressed to anticipate and prevent human rights infringements in the workplace as well as the best practices for responding to issues when they arise. It is important to be aware of the duty to accommodate, its limits and what it entails. Employment and human rights obligations often overlap.

Common Law

Another key component of employment law for RMs to remember is the common law. Unless enforceable terms and conditions of employment provide otherwise or there are grounds for just cause, RMs may be liable for providing reasonable notice upon termination, or pay in lieu, for employees. A recent case from the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench demonstrates the value for RMs to seek advice prior to making employment-related decisions.

In Seykora v Lake Lenore No. 339 (Rural Municipality), 2019 SKQB 225, a grader operator employed by an RM claimed that his employment was wrongfully terminated without reasonable notice. The RM alleged that the grader operator was advised of his deficient performance several times at council meetings and that, notwithstanding that no formal discipline had been issued, the cumulative effect of these discussions was that the grader operator should have known that his employment was in jeopardy.

The Court disagreed. Richmond J. of the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench found that the RM had not properly applied its discipline policy, which provided for a series of steps to be followed when disciplining an employee, including that the RM failed to properly warn the grader operator that his job was at risk prior to terminating his employment. The Court held that the plaintiff had been terminated without cause and awarded him 14 months’ pay and benefits, less two months for his failure to mitigate, plus his court costs.

Conclusion

There are numerous unique considerations for RMs in the labour and employment law context. RMs are encouraged to seek legal advice when determining how to best address these various legal and practical requirements. MLT Aikins LLP has a team of Saskatchewan labour and employment lawyers available to advise and assist municipalities with navigating employment obligations.

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.