December 15th, 2017

Business Beat: Time is running out on changes to employment standards

By Medicine Hat News on December 1, 2017.

There has been a whirlwind of public policy consultations throughout 2017 (albeit often short) and subsequent legislation changes that impact regulations for all employers. Many may not even be aware of the changes coming. However it is critically important to become knowledgeable about these types of changes in order to avoid any potential penalties that may result.

One of the changes coming is related to Employment Standards and the Labour Relations Code. Bill 17: The Fair and Family-Friendly Workplaces Act was first introduced on May 24 and received Royal Assent on June 7. Unfortunately, we have been waiting ever since that time for the corresponding detailed regulations to help assist businesses understand these changes.

The bill impacts everything from leaves and leave eligibility to the use of compressed work weeks. It prohibits certain deductions from wages and changes the rules around overtime, general holidays, vacation, termination and youth employment. There are also many additional details to a number of existing laws — too numerous to mention in just a few 100 words.

The concerning element of all of this is that employers still have not been provided the details around many of these changes, yet the standards come into force Jan. 1, 2018 — a mere 30 days from the date of this column being published.

I’ve been working with the Workplace Policy Legislation and Program Development branch within Alberta Labour to try to find answers to a few of the questions that we’ve had surface. I have included information about flex time, general holiday pay and break periods as those seem to be the questions that surface the most. I’ve also provided links to online resources for more detailed information and resources.

‘Flex-time’ arrangements are currently not explicitly addressed in employment standards legislation. Averaging agreements may be a suitable replacement for existing ‘flex-time’ agreements in industries that work more than eight hours a day and where fluctuations in business activity can be predicted and work schedules can be agreed upon in advance. Additional details on the requirements and overtime policy for averaging agreements are expected to be confirmed in the Employment Standards Regulation in the upcoming month. Generally there is nothing in employment standards legislation that prevents an employer and employee from shifting hours of work as long as they are not exceeding the daily overtime threshold. If hours are being shifted in such a way that the eight-hour day is exceeded (assuming the standard rule applies) then overtime will now need to be banked at 1.5 times per hour, whereas under the existing standards it is banked at straight time.

While there were changes to general holiday pay and entitlements, including the calculation to average daily wage, there were no changes to the time period that employees have to take paid time off, which is earned under section 29 of the Employment Standards Code. The earned holiday must be taken no later than the employee’s next annual vacation, on a day that would normally be a work day for the employee.

On Jan. 1, 2018, employees will be entitled to a minimum of 30-minute break, paid or unpaid, within every five hours of consecutive employment. The government is still maintaining exceptions to the requirement to provide a rest period if an accident occurs or unforeseeable or unpreventable circumstances occur, different rest periods are agreed to under a collective agreement, or it is not reasonable for an employee to take a rest period. Also with agreement from employers and employees, breaks can be taken in two 15-minute instalments which may be more manageable to intersperse throughout the employee’s shift.

General information about employment standards rules coming into effect on Jan. 1 can be found online at http://www.alberta.ca/eschanges. There will be information added over the following weeks to help employers and employees understand the changes. You may also wish to sign up for updates by emailing ES.Updates@gov.ab.ca. The government also has webinars running until Dec. 19, with additional sessions to be added in the new year. Webinar topics include an overview of changes to Employment Standards and changes to Employment Standards for the farm and ranch industry. You can register for these webinars online: https://ers.humanservices.alberta.ca/es-webinars.aspx. To stay up to date with any new changes, subscribe to the employment standards updates or subscribe to our e-newsletter and follow us on social media: https://twitter.com/mhdchamber, https://www.facebook.com/MHChamber.

Lisa Kowalchuk is the executive director of the Medicine Hat & District Chamber of Commerce. For more information on this column or the Chamber, contact 403-527-5214.

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