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Significant Legislative Changes Coming to Alberta Workplaces

Bill 32, Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act, was introduced to the Alberta Legislature on July 7, 2020.

Bill 32 contains numerous amendments to Alberta’s Employment Standards Code and Labour Relations Code, which we anticipate will significantly impact both unionized and non-unionized workplaces in Alberta. Unlike other legislative changes being implemented in response to COVID-19, these changes are anticipated to be permanent.

Significant Proposed Changes to Employment Standards

Termination and layoffs

  • Employers will have increased latitude to manage temporary changes to workforce size with the maximum length of layoffs being expended from 60 to 90 days within a 120 day period. However, this change will not impact temporary changes to the layoff provisions allowing for COVID-19 related layoffs to be up to 180 consecutive days. Additionally the advance notice requirements, typically amounting to 1-2 weeks of notice, for layoffs will be removed.
  • Notice entitlements for group terminations to unions and employees will be eliminated. Only notice to the minister will be required, which shall in all cases be 4 weeks instead of the current requirement for up to 16 weeks of notice.

Payroll and Pay Calculations

  • Termination Pay
    • Upon termination, an Employer will be able to pay employees their final pay based on either of the following two periods:
      • 10 consecutive days after the end of the pay period in which they were terminated, or
      • 31 consecutive days after the last day of employment
    • This change is significant as, currently, employers must typically pay earnings within 3 days of termination, which requires employers to run costly off-cycle payments.
  • Deductions
    • Employers will no longer need to obtain written consent to deduct overpayments due to payroll errors or vacation pay provided in advance. While employers will be required to provide written notice of the deduction, this change simplifies repayments and alleviates the need to commence costly legal proceedings against employees who refuse to repay overpayments.
  • Hours of Work Averaging Arrangements
    • Employers will be able to unilaterally implement compressed work weeks by providing 2 weeks’ notice. This change is a substantial departure from the current requirement for employee consent and largely reverses the changes to compressed work weeks implemented by the previous NDP Government.
    • Arrangements will be able to have an averaging period of up to 52 weeks (instead of 12 weeks under the current legislation) and would no longer need to have an end date. Additionally, it is expected that, under an hours of work averaging arrangement, employers will only need to calculate overtime based on the average weekly threshold of 44 hours/week rather than the greater of daily and average weekly thresholds.
  • Holiday Pay
    • Calculation of Holiday Pay will be simplified as employers will no longer need to include vacation pay or general holiday pay in calculating average daily wage. Additionally, depending on which calculation better aligns with an employer’s pay cycle, the average daily wage can be calculated having regard to an employee’s total wages averaged over the number of days they worked in the:
      • Four weeks immediately before the general holiday, or
      • Four weeks ending on the last day of the pay period that occurred just before the general holiday.

Significant Changes to the Labour Relations Code

Union Certification

  • Specific timelines for certification and revocation processes will be removed. Instead, such applications will be processed as soon as possible, and generally no later than 6 months after the date of application.
  • The Labour Relations Board’s ability to issue remedial certification will be limited to specified circumstances, such as when there is no other remedy sufficient to counteract the impacts of the employer’s misconduct and the true wishes of employees cannot be determined.

Hours of work

  • Employers and unions will be able to alter employment standards rules for hours of work, notice of work times, days of rest, and overtime hours under hours of work averaging arrangements.

Collective agreements

  • Collective agreements will be able to be renewed prior to expiry. Additionally, a collective agreement applying to employees in the construction sector would continue to apply despite a change in union until the collective agreement expires.

Strikes, lockouts and picketing

  • The Labour Relations Board will have additional criteria to determine whether picketing is lawful.
    • Unions will need advance permission to picket at locations other than their employer.
    • Picketing may be prohibited where it obstructs or impedes a person from crossing a picket line.
  • Employers may require the Labour Relations Board orders on illegal strikes and picketing to be filed with the courts, which may assist in enforcement of same.

Union Dues

  • Employees will no longer be required to pay union dues associated with certain political activities or other causes, such as general social causes or uses, charities or non-governmental organizations, organizations or groups affiliated with or supportive of a political party.
  • During an illegal strike, the Labour Relations Board may direct the employer to suspend employees’ payment of union dues.

Complaints (reverse onus)

  • If a complaint is made against an employer, the employer will have a reverse onus only when the complaint is about an employee being unfairly terminated.

Timeline for Proposed Changes

If passed, changes in Bill 32 would take effect in the following stages:

Changes in the Employment Standards Code would take effect November 1, 2020, except for the following changes which will take effect August 15, 2020:

  • changes to the requirements around group termination notice; and
  • length of temporary layoffs.

Most changes to the Labour Relations Code will take effect upon Bill 32 receiving royal assent. Notable exceptions taking effect upon proclamation include:

  • access to union financial statements/opt-in for union dues;
  • early renewal of collective agreements; and
  • rules for secondary picketing.

If you have any questions about these upcoming or prospective changes, please contact one of the members of our Labour & Employment Group.



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