The year 2017 may be remembered for its significant changes in matters of labor and employment across Canada. Several jurisdictions are amending their labor and employment regimes, including the federal government. With the introduction of Bill C-44, the federal government has adopted significant reforms to the Employment Insurance Act and the Canada Labour Code.
While federally regulated employers will want to pay close attention, it is worth noting that these reforms are already trickling down to the provincial level. Indeed, some provinces have proposed amendments to their provincial employment and labor legislation, all of which signal a trend toward more employer scrutiny in the labor and employment spheres, as well as a shift toward more employee-friendly rules. Employers should be cognizant of these changes as they are implemented at both the federal and provincial levels.
The federal government of Canada’s Bill C-44 was enacted into law on June 22, 2017. Three sections of the bill came into force on that date, while those dealing with employment insurance amendments will come into force on a later date to be determined by the government. Bill C-44 includes several revisions to the Employment Insurance Act, which operate to:
(a) Extend parental benefits for an additional 26 weeks, for a total of 61 weeks;
(b) Allow parental benefits for birth mothers to be paid over a longer period at a lower benefit rate;
(c) Allow expectant mothers to collect benefits up to 12 weeks prior to their due date, as opposed to the current eight-week period; and
(d) Create a “caregiving” benefit for family members caring for a critically ill adult or critically ill child.
The bill also amends the Canada Labour Code to provide similar, slightly greater increases to parental leave and maternity leave, and to create a comparable leave for family members caring for critically ill adults or children for federal-sector employees. Additionally, amendments to the Canada Labour Code now significantly expand the authority of the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) by providing it with the powers, duties, and functions of appeals officers under the Canada Labour Code. This gives the CIRB the jurisdiction to consider:
(a) Unjust dismissal adjudications of nonunion employees;
(b) Complaints relating to reprisals; and
(c) Penalty appeals under the sections of the Code dealing with occupational health and safety and employment standards.
Provinces following suit
Alberta: Similar changes were recently proposed in Alberta. Following a period of public consultation, Bill 17: The Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act was passed by the Alberta legislature on June 5, 2017, and received royal assent on June 7, 2017. Most of the changes come into effect on January 1, 2018. To align with the federal amendments, Alberta will reduce timelines for leave eligibility, increase the terms of existing leaves, and add new types of leave, including for long-term illness and injury, for domestic violence, or to care for a critically injured child. Other changes include amendments to overtime pay, holiday pay, rest periods, and minimum age requirements that are favorable to employees. More controversial amendments will also be implemented. These include changes making it easier for workplaces to become unionized. Specifically, a secret ballot vote will no longer be required if more than 65 percent of the employees hold membership cards. The amendments also include new administrative penalties, mandatory audit procedures, and potential inspections by Employment Standards Officers of Alberta workplaces.
Ontario: The Ontario provincial government has also taken steps to implement more employee-friendly laws. On June 1, 2017, it introduced Bill 148: The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017. This bill aims to make significant changes to several minimum employment standards and to the labor relations regime in Ontario. Our previous bulletin discussed the anticipated legislative changes in detail.
Takeaway for employers
The next few months will be a period of significant change in Canadian employment and labor law. Other provinces are no doubt taking note of these changes, and it remains to be seen to what extent they will be following suit. Given the pace of these changes, employers should review existing policies, procedures, and documents to ensure they are in compliance with the new requirements. Management and staff should be educated about the upcoming changes and should be prepared to answer questions.
Employers also should be conscious of the heightened enforcement and administration powers of government officials and administrative tribunals in matters of employment and labor. Considering the direction of the federal government and some of its provincial counterparts, employers in violation of employment and labor laws may now face swifter and more severe penalties.