EMPLOYMENT | COVID-19: Temporary changes to Alberta's Employment Standards Code - LawNow Magazine

EMPLOYMENT | COVID-19: Temporary changes to Alberta’s Employment Standards Code

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COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of people’s lives in Alberta, across Canada and around the world. Governments have scrambled to approve stimulus packages, update public health orders, and change laws to respond to this new disease.

Alberta declared a public health emergency under the Public Health Act on March 17, 2020. Doing so gives the government powers to temporarily suspend or change any part of a law through a Ministerial Order. The government posts all of Alberta’s public health orders and Ministerial Orders online.

Ministerial Order 18/2020 dated April 6, 2020 makes temporary changes to Alberta’s Employment Standards Code. The Employment Standards Code and the Ministerial Order apply to most workers in Alberta. For more information about who is not covered, see CPLEA’s Employment FAQs.

What are the temporary changes to the Code?

Ministerial Order 18/2020 introduced several temporary changes:

  1. Notice of Schedule Changes

Employers are usually supposed to give employees at least 24 hours’ written notice of a shift change. Right now, employers only have to give written notice as soon as possible in the circumstances. The requirement for 8 hours of rest between shifts has not changed.

Under an Averaging Agreement, an employee can make a temporary change to the employer’s schedule by giving them at least 2 weeks’ notice before the change comes into effect. Right now, employers only have to give employees notice as soon as possible in the circumstances.

These changes will allow employers and employees to respond quickly to staffing needs.

  1. Job-Protected Unpaid Leaves

Normally, an employee is entitled to up to 5 days of unpaid leave to deal with their own health or to meet their responsibilities in relation to a family member. Employees usually must be employed for 90 days to qualify for this leave.

… the government has temporarily changed the lay-off period to 120 consecutive days.Right now, an employee is entitled to unpaid leave for the period of time directed by Dr. Hinshaw to allow the employee to meet their responsibilities in relation to a family member who is under quarantine as well as any of their children affected by school or daycare closures. An employee does not need to have worked for the same company for 90 days to qualify for this leave. As well, an employee must give their employer documentation to prove the leave at a time when it is reasonable to do so. Employees are not required to provide a medical certificate.

  1. Group Terminations

Normally, an employer must notify the Minister of Labour and Immigration if the employer intends to terminate 50 or more employees at a single location within a 4-week period. The amount of notice (in weeks) depends on how many employees the employer is terminating.

Right now, employers are required to give the Minister notice of group terminations as soon as possible in the circumstances. The notice must include the number of employees the employer is terminating and the effective date of the terminations. However, employers are still required to provide employees with appropriate notice or pay in lieu of notice of the termination.

For more information on notice or pay in lieu of notice of termination, see CPLEA’s FAQs on termination.

  1. Temporary Lay-offs

Before COVID-19, employers could lay off an employee for a total of 60 days within a 120-day period. This means your employer could give you a lay-off notice and you could not work for up to 60 days in a 120-day period but still have a job.

Because of COVID-19, it is likely that many employees will not work at all in a 120-day period. Accordingly, the government has temporarily changed the lay-off period to 120 consecutive days. This means, your employer can lay you off for 120 consecutive days and recall you back to work at the end of that period. If your employer recalls you, you must return to the same job – it’s not a termination and re-hire. If your employer does not recall you, then your employment has ended and you are entitled to the appropriate notice or pay in lieu of notice.

For more information on temporary lay-offs, see CPLEA’s FAQs on lay-off.

  1. Applications for Variances or Exceptions to the Code

Ministerial Order 18/2020 dated April 6, 2020 makes temporary changes to Alberta’s Employment Standards Code.The Code sets out a process for employers, a group of employers or employer associations to apply to the government (Director or Minister) to issue a variance or exemptions from certain provisions of the Code. Under s. 74 of the Code, an employer could apply to the Director for variances or exemption from certain provisions. (Those provisions are set out in s. 43.86 of the Regulations.) Under s. 74.1, groups of employers or employer associations could apply to the Minister for variances or exemptions from any provisions under the Code or Regulations.

Now, employers, groups of employers and employer associations can all apply under ss. 74 and 74.1. As well, s. 43.86 of the Regulation has been changed. And the factors the Director or Minister must consider do not apply to employers, groups of employers or employer associations impacted by COVID-19.

How long will these changes last?

Ministerial Order 18/2020 remains in effect until August 14, 2020 unless one of the following happens first:

  • 60 days after the Order is cancelled by the Lieutenant Governor (if she cancels it before June 15, 2020);
  • the Minister terminates the Order because it is no longer in the public interest; or
  • the Lieutenant Governor cancels the Order.

Once the Ministerial Order ends, the changes described above will be reversed, and the original provisions of the Code and Regulations will apply.

For more information about changes to the law due to COVID-19, see CPLEA’s COVID-19 page.

Authors:

Jessica Steingard
Jessica Steingard
Jessica Steingard, BCom, JD, is a staff lawyer at the Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta.
 


A Publication of CPLEA

For COVID-19 information: 
COVID-19 Alberta Law FAQ

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