Alberta’s Employment Standards Code provides minimum standards of employment that apply to the majority of employers and employees in the province, with the exception of those working in federally regulated industries. The Code applies to approximately 85 per cent of all employment relationships in Alberta.
Alberta’s workplaces have evolved since the Employment Standards Code was last updated in 1988, including growth in part-time jobs, shift work and flexible schedules.
Following input from stakeholders and nearly 5,000 online survey responses, a series of changes to the Code have been passed to support family-friendly workplaces, modernize decades-old legislation, and align the minimum employment standards with the rest of Canada.
Changes to existing laws
As part of Bill 17: The Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act, the following changes will come into effect on January 1, 2018.
- Employees will be eligible for current (excluding reservists leave) and new leaves after 90 days, rather than 1 year.
Compassionate care leave
- Unpaid job protection will be extended to 27 weeks, from the current 8 weeks, to better align with federal Employment Insurance benefits.
- Caregiver status will be expanded to include non-primary caregivers.
- Leave will be available for multiple weekly installments within the period outlined in the medical certificate, rather than the current limit of 2 installments.
- Notice to an employer will be kept at 2 weeks, however language indicating that leave can be taken as soon as reasonable will be added.
- Notice to an employer of the employee’s planned date of return to work will be reduced to one week from two weeks.
- End date for compassionate care leave can be either the last day of the work week in which the family member dies or the employee ceases to provide care, or the end of the 27 week period (whichever is earlier).
- These changes align the allowable leave with federal Employment Insurance guidelines.
- Unpaid job protection for maternity leave will be extended from 15 to 16 weeks to account for the one-week waiting time for federal Employment Insurance benefits.
- Unpaid job protection for parental leave will remain at 37 weeks, but may be increased in the future to align with proposed federal Employment Insurance benefits.
- Legislation for the following will be modified such that:
- an employee may be terminated during the notice/entitlement period ONLY for situations where the business is closed or suspended
- leave will not apply if pregnancy terminates more than 16 weeks before due date
- an employee whose pregnancy terminates within 16 weeks of the due date will still be eligible for maternity leave; leave will end either 16 weeks after the leave began or 6 weeks after the pregnancy is terminated
- Employees will be entitled to a minimum of a 30-minute break (paid or unpaid) within every 5 hours of consecutive employment. If agreed to by the employer and employees, breaks can be taken in two, 15-minute installments.
Compressed work weeks
- This type of work arrangement has been renamed as “Averaging Agreements.” All such agreements will require support of the majority of affected employees, or be contained within a union collective agreement.
- Employers and employees will be allowed to agree to average work hours over a period of 1 to 12 weeks for the purpose of determining overtime eligibility. Work weeks may also be compressed as part of these agreements.
- Employers that require longer cycles may apply for a permit.
- The Code will be clarified to indicate which deductions will be allowed from wages, as well as explicitly prohibiting deductions for faulty work and cash shortages (i.e. dine-and-dash and gas-and-dash scenarios).
- All Albertans deserve to make a living wage. Employers will no longer be allowed to pay employees with disabilities less than the minimum wage. Permits that formerly allowed employers to pay employees with disabilities less than the minimum wage are no longer available.
- Overtime agreements will allow time to be banked for 6 months rather than 3.
- Overtime banking will be calculated at 1.5x for all overtime hours worked, rather than hour-for-hour.
General holiday and general holiday pay
- The requirement to have worked for 30 days in the 12 months before the holiday will be removed. The distinction between regular and non-regular days of work will be eliminated.
- General Holiday pay will be calculated as 5% of wages, general holiday pay, and vacation pay earned in the 4 weeks immediately preceding the holiday.
Vacations and vacation pay
- The Code will be clarified to indicate that employees must be paid 4% or 2 weeks of their total wages as vacation pay until they have been employed for 5 years, after which they must receive at least 6%.
- Half-day vacation increments will be allowed, up from a minimum of 1 day.
Termination and temporary layoffs
- Rules regarding termination notice will be clarified.
- Employers will be prohibited from forcing employees to use entitlements such as vacation or overtime during a termination notice period, unless agreed to by both.
- Requirements for providing termination notice to large groups of employees, unions and the Minister of Labour will be increased and scaled:
- 50–100 employees: 8 weeks
- 101–300 employees: 12 weeks
- 301+ employees: 16 weeks
- The possibility of an indefinite temporary layoff will be eliminated by requiring layoffs be limited to 60 days within a 120-day period. Layoffs could be extended if wages and/or benefits are paid and the employee agrees.
- Written notice of a temporary layoff to an employee will be required. Notice must contain effective date and outline applicable provisions of the Code.
- Waiver of the notice requirement for unforeseen circumstances beyond an employer’s control will be allowed.
- Recall notices from temporary layoffs will be required to be written.
- Termination pay will be calculated based on the previous 13 weeks of employment when the employee actually worked, not simply the calendar weeks preceding the termination.
- With the exception of artistic endeavours, youth under the age of 13 will not be allowed to work as employees. (Youth under the age of 13 will be allowed to be employed in artistic endeavours such as a theatre production with a permit.)
- Youth aged 13-15 will only be allowed to work in jobs on the ‘light work’ list.
- The Ministry will consult with employers and other stakeholders to modernize the list of allowable ‘light work’ jobs for youth under the age of 16 to include, for example, accommodation and food service tasks such as setting tables, golf caddying or working in a pro shop and tutoring, etc. The list will then be reviewed and updated every 3 years. Employment in a job that is not on the list will require a permit in advance.
- Youth under 16 will be prohibited from jobs deemed to include hazardous work.
- The Ministry will be consulting with stakeholders to create a definition of hazardous work.
- 16 and 17-year-olds will be allowed to do hazardous work only with a permit, and with proper training and supervision.
NOTE: No changes are being made immediately. These changes will come into effect after the Ministry finishes consultations on the list of light work jobs and the definition of hazardous work. Upcoming changes will have no effect on youth activities such as 4-H, or branding parties, and won’t stop friends and neighbours from helping each other as they have done for generations.
Additions to existing laws
The following will be added to the Employment Standards Code. They are designed to protect Alberta workers and align with current trends across the country. They will come into effect on January 1, 2018.
All of the following job-protected leaves are unpaid.
- Eligibility – Employees will be eligible for current (excluding reservists leave) and new leaves after 90 days, rather than 1 year.
- Personal and Family Responsibility Leave – A new unpaid leave will provide up to 5 days of job protection per year for personal sickness or short-term care of an immediate family member. Includes attending to personal emergencies and caregiving responsibilities related to education of a child.
- Long-Term Illness and Injury Leave – A new unpaid leave will provide up to 16 weeks of job protection per year for long-term personal sickness or injury. Medical certificate and reasonable notice will be required. This will align with the federal Employment Insurance program.
- Bereavement Leave – A new unpaid leave will provide up to 3 days of job protection per year for bereavement of an immediate family member.
- Domestic Violence Leave – A new unpaid leave will provide up to 10 days of job protection per year for employees addressing a situation of domestic violence.
- Citizenship Ceremony Leave – A new unpaid leave will provide up to a half-day of job protection for employees attending a citizenship ceremony.
- Critical Illness of a Child – A new unpaid leave will provide up to 36 weeks of job protection for parents of critically ill or injured children. This will align with the federal Employment Insurance program.
- Death or disappearance of a Child – A new unpaid leave will provide up to 52 weeks of job protection for employees whose child disappeared as a result of a crime, or up to 104 weeks if a child died as a result of a crime. This will align with the federal Employment Insurance program.
Enforcement and administration
- A new administrative penalty system will be implemented for employers found to be in contravention of the Code. Details of the system are being developed and will be made public later this year.
- The time period to commence prosecution will be increased from 1 to 2 years.
- A future shift to the Labour Relations Board will be enabled for appeals.
- The permitting process will be streamlined by setting clear and enforceable criteria and setting time limits on permits or variances. Criteria for permits or variances will be published in regulation or policy.
- Permits previously granted to employer associations, or that allowed industry-wide exceptions, will be eliminated and replaced with regulations. This will enable a transparent process that will allow for industry to create rules within regulations that are unique to its sector’s needs.
- Employment Standards Officers will be given the authority to direct employers to conduct self-audits in a form prescribed by the Ministry.
- Employment Standards Officers will be given the authority to direct employers to conduct self-audits in a form prescribed by the Ministry.
- Clarifications to the Code will be added that establish time periods for the recovery of earnings that are not dependent on when the order was issued, and to allow orders to capture a broader range of entitlements.
- Changes will be made to allow the Labour Relations Board to hear appeals.
How farms and ranches will be affected
For family members
Family members will be exempt from all Employment Standards Code provisions.
Definition: "family member", in relation to a shareholder, sole proprietor or partner, means:
- the spouse or adult interdependent partner of the shareholder, sole proprietor or partner, or
- whether by blood, marriage or adoption or by virtue of an adult interdependent relationship, a child, parent, grandparent, sibling, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew or first cousin of the shareholder, sole proprietor or partner or of the shareholder’s, sole proprietor’s or partner’s spouse or adult interdependent partner, and includes any other person prescribed by the regulations to be a family member.
For waged, non-family employees
- Children 12 and under are prohibited from employment, except for artistic endeavors approved by permit from Employment Standards. Youth aged 13-15 will be allowed to do light work only and no hazardous jobs. (Alberta Labour will update the list of allowable light work jobs and create a definition for hazardous work.) Jobs not on the list will require a permit. Youth 16-17 will be allowed to do hazardous work with a permit, proper training and supervision.
- Note - Upcoming changes will have no effect on youth activities such as 4-H, casual work or branding parties, and won’t stop friends and neighbours from helping each other as they have done for generations.
- General Holiday Pay will apply and will be based on 4.2% of the previous 4 weeks’ wages.
- Vacation and vacation pay entitlements under the Code will apply. Employees will be entitled to 2 weeks’ vacation per year after one year, and 3 weeks’ vacation per year after working five years. Vacation pay will be calculated on total wages.
- Four days of rest must be provided for every 28 days at the employer’s discretion, if the employer and employee can’t agree on dates.
- Existing employment standards will apply, including:
- Minimum wage (Will be $13.60/hr effective October 1, 2017 and $15/hr October 1, 2018)
- Unpaid, job-protected leaves including:
- maternity leave (16 weeks)
- parental leave (37 weeks)
- reservist leave (as needed)
- compassionate care leave (27 weeks)
- bereavement leave (three days)
- domestic violence leave (10 days)
- citizenship ceremony leave (half day)
- critical illness of a child leave (36 weeks)
- long-term illness and injury leave (16 weeks)
- personal and family responsibility leave (five days)
- disappearance/death of a child leave (52/104 weeks)
- Standards on payment of earnings, employment records
- Standards on individual and group termination notice and termination pay (sliding scale of 0-13 weeks’ notice/pay based on length of service)
- Standards on administration and enforcement (e.g. permitting process, complaints, appeals).
- Vacations and vacation pay (two weeks’ vacation after one year, three weeks after five years, plus either 4% (up to fifth year of employment) or 6% vacation pay (after five years’ employment)
- Greenhouses, nurseries, mushroom and sod farms: these operations are not considered farms under the Employment Standards Code, however government will consult with the industry as to whether special rules are required regarding the application of employment standards.
Note: Only those farms and ranches with paid employees who are not the owner or related to the owner will be affected by this legislation. Unpaid farm and ranch workers, such as relatives, friends and neighbours helping out, will not be affected. Children doing chores or participating in activities such as 4-H, helping neighbours and friends, as well as recreational activities such as hunting on farmland, will also not be affected.
For more information, see farm and ranch employment standards consultations.