The year 2017 is seeing significant changes in labour and employment matters across Canada. Several jurisdictions, including the federal government, are amending their labour and employment regimes. 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 labour legislation, all of which signal a trend towards more employer scrutiny in the labour and employment spheres, as well as a shift towards more employee-friendly rules. Employers should be cognisant of these changes as they are implemented at both the federal and provincial levels.
The federal government’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:
- extend parental benefits by an additional 26 weeks for a total of 61 weeks;
- allow parental benefits for birth mothers to be paid over a longer period at a lower benefit rate;
- allow expectant mothers to collect benefits up to 12 weeks before their due date, as opposed to the current eight-week period; and
- 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. In addition, the amendments to the Canada Labour Code 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 code. This gives the CIRB jurisdiction to consider:
- unjust dismissal adjudications of non-union employees;
- complaints relating to reprisals; and
- penalty appeals under the sections of the code dealing with occupational health and safety, and employment standards.
Provinces following suit
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 changes will 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 or 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 favourable to employees.
More controversial amendments will also be implemented. These include changes making it easier for workplaces to become unionised. Specifically, a secret ballot vote will no longer be required if more than 65% of employees hold membership cards. The amendments also include new administrative penalties, mandatory audit procedures and potential inspections of Alberta workplaces by employment standards officers.
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. The bill aims to make significant changes to several minimum employment standards and the labour relations regime in Ontario (for further details please see “Ontario labour and employment law amendments“).
The next few months will be a period of significant change in Canadian employment and labour law. Other provinces are no doubt taking note of these changes, and it remains to be seen to what extent they will follow suit. Given the pace of the changes, employers should review existing policies, procedures and documents to ensure that they are in compliance with the new requirements. Management and staff should be educated about the upcoming changes and prepared to answer questions.
Employers should also be conscious of the heightened enforcement and administration powers of government officials and administrative tribunals in employment and labour matters. Considering the direction of the federal government and some of its provincial counterparts, employers in violation of employment and labour laws may now face swifter and more severe penalties.