Susan Kootnekoff is the founder of Inspire Law, an Okanagan based-law practice. She has been practicing law since 1994, with brief stints away to begin raising children. Susan has experience in many areas of law, but is most drawn to areas in which she can make a positive difference in people’s lives, including employment law. She has been a member of the Law Society of Alberta since 1994 and a member of the Law Society of British Columbia since 2015. Susan grew up in Saskatchewan. Her parents were both entrepreneurs, and her father was also a union leader who worked tirelessly to improve the lives of workers. Before moving to B.C., Susan practiced law in both Calgary and Fort McMurray, AB. Living and practicing law in Fort McMurray made a lasting impression on Susan. It was in this isolated and unique community that her interest in employment law, and Canada’s oil sands industry, took hold. In 2013, Susan moved to the Okanagan with her family, where she currently resides. Photo: Contributed

Kootnekoff: Changes to Alberta Employment Standards and Labour Relations legislation

Susan Kootnekoff is the founder of Inspire Law, her diverse legal career spans over 20 years

Alberta’s workplace legislation is starting to resemble a ping pong ball.

After the NDP formed the Alberta government in 2013, it amended certain Alberta laws to include employee and union friendly provisions, many of which were consistent with legislation in other provinces.

In 2019 the United Conservative Party (UCP) formed a majority government in Alberta.

Now, the UCP has passed numerous important legislative amendments in the Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act, 2020. Its stated purpose is to increase investment in Alberta’s workforce, reduce the administrative burden for employers and “save employers time and money”.

The legislation amends Alberta’s Employment Standards Code, Labour Relations Code and several other statutes. It will impact employers, unions, and ultimately employees working in Alberta.

Some of the changes became effective on August 15, 2020. This includes changes to the length of temporary layoffs, group terminations and variances and exemptions. Several others take effect November 1, 2020.

Below is a summary of just a few of the changes.

Temporary Layoffs

Temporary layoffs in Alberta can now last for up to 90 days in a 120-day period. Layoffs that are a result of COVID-19 may now last for up to 180 consecutive days.

Group Terminations

Before this legislation, an employer terminating the employment of more than 50 employees at a single location within a 4-week period was required to provide varying amounts of notice depending on the number of employees terminated.

Employers are no longer required to give employees and unions notice of group termination. They must, however, provide individual termination notice to employees. Employers must give the Minister of Labour and Immigration at least four weeks’ written notice if they intend to layoff 50 or more employees at the same location in a four-week period. An employer that cannot provide four weeks’ notice must provide notice as soon as possible.

The group terminations provision does not apply to seasonal employees or employees employed for a certain task or a definite term.

Payroll Deductions

Previously, employers were not able to deduct overpayments from an employee’s paycheck unless the employee consented. The changes now allow employers to correct payroll errors by providing written notice to the employee. Employee consent will no longer be required.

Final Pay Following Employment Dismissals

Alberta employers were previously required to pay an employee’s earnings no later than three or 10 consecutive days after an employee’s last day of employment, depending on the circumstances. This is changing to 10 consecutive days after the end of the pay period in which the termination of employment occurs or 31 consecutive days after the last day of employment.

Penalties, Variances and Exceptions

Employers who violate the law will face lower penalties and have more flexible payment options.

Variances and exceptions to the requirements will be easier for employers to obtain. This means some employers may not be required to comply with minimum wage, overtime pay, breaks and severance provisions.

Employers and Unions May Vary Employment Standards

Employers and unions will now be permitted to alter (this means fall below) certain employment standards. These include hours of work, days of rest, notice of work times and overtime hours under hours of work averaging agreements.

Summary Dismissal

The Alberta Labour Relations Board (LRB) may now reject a matter summarily if it is of the opinion that the matter is without merit, frivolous, trivial, vexatious, filed with improper motives, or an abuse of process.

The changes also expand the LRB’s ability to summarily dismiss a duty of fair representation complaint if it considers that the complainant has refused to accept a fair and reasonable settlement.

Political Activities and Other Causes

Opt-in from union members will be required for any political spending by their union. Unions will be required to make their financial statements available to members after each fiscal year. Unions must now disclose the percentage of union dues that relate to “political activities and other causes.” This includes “general social causes or issues”, charities or non-governmental organizations, “organizations or groups affiliated with or supportive of a political party” and any activities prescribed by the regulations.

Challenges

This legislation contains numerous far-reaching changes with significant implications for many Albertans.

The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) is concerned. It has issued fact sheets which it says correct the government of Alberta’s fact sheets summarizing the changes.

The AFL plans to challenge this legislation in court on the basis that it violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It would not be surprising for others to also challenge the legislation in various ways.

Those court decisions will no doubt result in interesting legal developments. Maybe the ping pong ball will finally rest.

The content of this article is intended to provide very general thoughts and general information, not to provide legal advice. Specialist advice from a qualified legal professional should be sought about your specific circumstances.

If you would like to reach us, we may be reached through our website, at www.inspirelaw.ca.

In case you missed it?

Temporary layoffs during COVID-19

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