In January 2020, the rules changed to exempt farm and ranch employees on small farms from employment standards laws.
Alberta’s Employment Standards Code (and the Employment Standards Regulation) applies to most workers in Alberta. But it creates all kinds of exceptions for farm workers, including whether the rules even apply at all.
In November 2019, the UCP government introduced Bill 26: Farm Freedom and Safety Act. The Bill amended the Agricultural Operation Practices Act, the Employment Standards Code, and the Labour Relations Code. It included some of the rules described above, which came into effect on January 30, 2020.
Bill 26 meant to undo some of the changes to the agricultural industry first introduced by the NDP in 2015 through Bill 6: Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, which was met with mixed reviews at the time. According to discussion in the legislature, the changes included in Bill 26 were made after “extensive consultations over months with agricultural stakeholders.” Changes to the Employment Standards Code carved out exceptions for small farms and recognized greenhouses and nurseries as farms.
Let’s start with a definition of farm and ranch employees. Then we’ll look at which farm and ranch employees the Code does and does not apply to.
Who is a farm and ranch employee?
It is an individual employed by a farm primarily producing eggs, milk, grain, seeds, fruit, vegetables, mushrooms, sod, trees, shrubs, plants, honey, livestock, diversified livestock animals, poultry, or bees. Production can be in a greenhouse or nursery. An operation that produces cultured fish is included but cannabis production is not.
Which farm and ranch employees does the Employment Standards Code NOT apply to?
The Employment Standards Code does not apply at all to family members, volunteers, and workers on small farms. Let’s call these exempted workers.
Family members include spouses, adult interdependent partners, children, parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, or first cousins. These family members can be shareholders, partners, or sole proprietors.
Volunteers include any unpaid workers, such as family, friends or neighbours helping out.
A small farm is one that employs five or less paid workers for more than six months. This limit of five workers does not include seasonal workers or family members. For example, a farm is a small farm if it pays five employees for six or more months of work. The farm may have several seasonal workers (who work less than six consecutive months) and family members involved, but it is still a small farm. As soon as the farm starts paying its sixth long-term employee, it is no longer a small farm and the usual rules under the Code apply.
Which farm and ranch employees does the Employment Standards Code STILL apply to?
The Code applies to all farm and ranch employees except for the exempted workers described above. Farms employing more than five farm and ranch employees must follow rules in the Code about minimum wage, job-protected leaves, vacation pay, termination pay, and more. The Code also sets out a few exceptions for these farm and ranch employees when it comes to hours of work and rest, overtime, and general holiday pay.
Hours of Work & Rest Exceptions
Farm and ranch employees are not protected by some of the hours of work laws in the Code. Employees can work more than 12 hours in a workday and do not have to get 20-minute breaks after every 5 hours of work.
A farm employer must give each employee at least four days of rest in each period of 28 consecutive workdays.
The rules about overtime and overtime pay do not apply to farm and ranch employees at all.
General Holiday Pay Exceptions
If a farm and ranch employee does not work on a general holiday, the employer must pay general holiday pay. In this case, general holiday pay is calculated as at least 4.2% of the employee’s wages, vacation pay and general holiday pay earned in the four weeks before the holiday.
If an employee does work on a general holiday, the employer must pay the employee their usual wage rate multiplied by the number of hours worked. The employer must also pay general holiday pay (as calculated above). The employer can also choose to give the employee a working day off within 30 days of the general holiday or on a later date if agreed to in writing. The day off is optional but paying general holiday pay is not.
More Legislative Changes
If you thought the above was complicated, there’s more! Other changes in Bill 26 included removing the requirement for farms to enroll in Alberta’s Workers’ Compensation Benefits (WCB) scheme. Instead farms with more than five long-term employees must either enroll in WCB or buy private insurance. Small farms do not have to have any insurance. Farm and ranch employees (with exceptions for greenhouses, mushroom farms, nurseries and sod farms) are also no longer afforded protection under the Labour Relations Code, including not be able to join trade unions and collectively bargain with their employers.
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The information in this article was correct at time of publishing. The law may have changed since then. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LawNow or the Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta.
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