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Alberta’s Workplace Legislation: A Ping Pong Ball

  • Image: “Ping Pong Balls” by Peter Alfred Hess is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

After the NDP formed the Alberta government in 2013, it amended Alberta's workplace legislation, including Employment Standards Code and Labour Relations Code, to include  provisions consistent with those in other provinces.

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

Now, the UCP has passed numerous important amendments to Alberta's workplace legislation 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 opposition tabled numerous amendments, but the majority government defeated every single one.

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.   

LRB Summary Dismissals

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” including:

(i)        general social causes or issues;

(ii)       charities or non-governmental organizations;

(iii)      organizations or groups affiliated with or supportive of a political party; and

(iv)      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 eventually come to rest.

This is a slightly modified version of an article that appeared in the Kelowna Capital News and other online publications on or about August 23, 2020. The content of this article is intended to provide very general thoughts and general information, not to provide legal advice. Advice from an experienced legal professional should be sought about your specific circumstances.  We may be reached through our website at inspirelaw.ca