The Alberta Government has released a Ministerial Order temporarily amending employment standards legislation to deal with the practical implications arising from COVID-19.
On April 6, 2020, the Alberta Government issued a press release announcing upcoming temporary changes to the Alberta Employment Standards Code (the “Code”) in response to COVID-19. On April 9, 2020, the Alberta Government released a Ministerial Order (the “Order”) effecting those changes.
The changes to the Code and Employment Standards Regulation (the “Regulation”) include:
- COVID-19 leave. Unpaid job-protected COVID-19 leave is extended to employees caring for a family member under quarantine or children affected by school and daycare closures due to COVID-19. The requirement that an employee be employed for 90 days before taking this leave is waived and the leave length is flexible, based on the Chief Medical Officer’s recommendations. Employers may, at a reasonable time in the circumstances, request that the employee provide documentation reasonable in the circumstances to show they are entitled to the leave. However, employees are not required to provide a medical certificate. These changes are retroactive to March 17, 2020.
- Temporary layoffs. The maximum time for a temporary layoff is increased from 60 days within a 120-day period to 120 consecutive days. This change is retroactive for any temporary layoffs that occurred on or after March 17, 2020, whether or not they are related to COVID-19.
- Notice of schedule changes. Employers are given more scheduling flexibility, now having only to provide written notice of shift changes and averaging agreement work schedules “as soon as is practicable in the circumstances”, rather than at least 24 hours for shift changes and at least two weeks for averaging agreement work schedules. These changes are effective as of April 6, 2020.
- Group termination notices. The requirement to provide group termination notice to employees and unions when 50 or more employees are intended to be terminated at a single location in a 4-week period is removed. Notice of group terminations must still be provided to the Minister of Labour and Immigration where an employer intends to terminate 50 or more employees at a single location, but this notice needs only be provided “as soon as is practicable in the circumstances”. Unfortunately, the Ministerial Order temporarily eliminates the requirement that the terminations occur within a 4-week period, so employers considering terminating more than 50 employees at a single location over staggered and extended periods of time will now need to give advance notice of these terminations to the Minister of Labour and Immigration. These changes are effective as of April 6, 2020.
- Variances and exemptions. Groups of employers and employer associations are now permitted to apply to the Director of Employment Standards for variances or exemptions relating to hours of work, averaging agreement periods, and minimum daily pay. In addition, individual employers may also apply directly to the Minister of Labour and Immigration for variances or exemptions to other provisions of the Code or the Regulation. This will allow employers to respond more quickly to changing conditions in their workplace due to COVID-19. These changes are effective as of April 6, 2020.
The changes provided by the Order are temporary and will be in force until the earlier of 60 days after Alberta’s state of public health emergency ends, August 14, 2020, or the day the Order is revoked.
We will continue to monitor this situation and provide updates when they are available.
By Sheena Owens and David Price, Stikeman Elliott
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