The Federal Ministry of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour will soon be concluding a period of consultations with the general public about flexible work arrangements. In that process, the Minister has made it clear that changes are coming. They will affect employers covered by the employment standards provisions of the Canada Labour Code, which represents a small segment of the Canadian workforce as it only applies to federal employers i.e. employers in industries like banking, telecommunications, aviation, inter-provincial trucking, etc. The employment standards provisions in the Canada Labour Code do not apply to workers in the northern Territories as each territory has its own employment standards legislation.

The theme behind this initiative is described in the paper as follows: “With the nature of work and society evolving, more and more Canadians are challenged in finding the right balance between their work and personal life.” The discussion paper announces that “the Government has pledged to give workers in federally regulated sectors the right to formally request flexible work arrangements from their employers… The ability to make these requests without fear of reprisal will support economic security for middle class Canadian families and those working hard to join them.”

In the consultations it has been made clear that the consultations were not about whether to implement flexible work arrangements, but how to do it. In preparing the legislation, one challenge will be how to relate this new employer obligation with the current human rights obligation to avoid discrimination on the basis of “family status” and “marital status” which already requires employer accommodation of employee needs in many instances.

If you are a federal employer governed by the employment standards provisions of the Canada Labour Code, you can expect legislation to come soon which will give employees the right to demand flexible work arrangements. We can only hope that it will provide employers with some ability to deny it for good business reasons. If you are a worker or employer in other labour jurisdictions in Canada, you might be seeing the start of a trend.

We will update all of you after the legislation is introduced.

Article by Hugh J.D. McPhail, Q.C. of McLennan Ross LLP