COVID-19 UPDATE: Temporary Relaxation of Alberta Layoff, Group Termination, Scheduling Rules, New Unpaid Job Protection Entitlements for Employees and Recent Amendments

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As the evolution of COVID-19 continues to significantly impact workplaces, employers and employees have to continuously adapt to its dynamic effects, including as we look toward returning to our offices. Acknowledging these unprecedented times, the Alberta Minister of Labour made temporary changes to provisions of Alberta’s Employment Standards Code (the “Code”) as well as the Employment Standards Regulation pursuant to a Ministerial Order (the “Order”), which was recently amended by Ministerial Order No.27/2020, as follows:

  • The maximum length of a temporary layoff is increased from 60 days to 120 days. This increase applies to (i) a layoff where the layoff notice is given to the employee on or after March 17, 2020, and (ii) a layoff as a result of COVID-19 that is underway as of March 17, 2020.
  • The 24 hour written notice requirement for employers to notify employees of a shift change has been removed. Employers must now notify employees as soon as is practicable in the circumstances. The 2 week notice requirement for changes to work schedules for employees under an hours of work averaging agreement has been removed. Therefore, employers have more latitude with scheduling work.
  • Employers are no longer required to provide notice of group termination to affected employees, unions or the Minister of Labour and Immigration when 50 or more employees are being terminated. They now only have to notify the Minister of Labour and Immigration when 50 or more employees are being terminated, as soon as practicable.
  • Employees who have had to take time off work due to the closure of schools and daycares, or who have had to care for ill or self-isolated family members due to COVID-19, will have the ability to access unpaid job-protected leave. The employee does not have to be employed for 90 days in order to access the leave and the length of this leave is flexible. While a medical certificate is not required, an employer may request an employee provide documentation reasonable in the circumstances and at a time that is reasonable in the circumstances to support the leave.
  • The process for obtaining a variance or exemption under the Code is being streamlined to enable employers better flexibility to adapt to rapidly changing working conditions in the coming months as a result of COVID-19 and further public health measures and recommendations. Notably, the Order:
    • permits a single employer to apply for a ministerial variance or exemption to any provision under the Code. Previously, an application for a ministerial variance could only be made by a group of employers or an employer association. Employers no longer need to find other employers with aligned interests to make a joint application, employers will be able to apply for a ministerial variance on their own behalf;
    • removes the requirement for the Minister to consider: (i) the employment standards and occupational health and safety compliance history of the employer, (ii) the rationale for the request, (iii) whether there is employee support for the variance, prior to making an order for variance or exemption to any provision under the Code;
    • permits a group of employers or an employer association to apply for a Director’s variance or exemption of certain sections of the Code authorized by the Regulations; and
    • removes the requirement for the Director of Employment Standards to consider: (i) the employment standards and occupational health and safety compliance history of the employer, (ii) the rationale for the request, (iii) whether there is employee support for the variance, or (iv) the effect the variance could have on the safety, health or welfare of the public or the affected employees, prior to issuing a variance or exemption.

It is important to recognize that these changes are temporary and are intended to only be in place so long as the public health emergency order remains in effect. As more details become available on the implementation and effects of these temporary changes, our Labour & Employment group will keep employers updated.

If you have any questions about these temporary changes, especially as we begin to return to office, please contact one of the members of our Labour & Employment Group.

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