Bill 32: Changes to Alberta’s Employment Standards Code

Peninsula Team

October 27 2020

*This article was updated on October 27, 2020.

On July 29, 2020, Bill 32, the Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act, received royal assent. Bill 32 makes a number of changes to Alberta’s Employment Standards Code and Labour Relations Code. These measures have been introduced to support economic recovery in the province, and bring Albertans back to work. 

Most of the changes made to the ESC will come into effect on November 1, 2020. However, a few changes came into force on August 15, 2020. 

What came into effect on August 15

As of August 15, 2020, the following changes were applied to the Employment Standards Code.

Changes to group termination notice

Now there is just one set of rules for all terminations of 50 or more employees in a four-week period. Employers do not have to give group termination notice to employees or unions.

But employers still have to give the Ministry of Labour a four-week notice, or a reasonable amount of time, when they terminate more than 50 employees at a single location. 

If the employer cannot do so, they may provide written notice “as soon as reasonable in the circumstances“.

Previously, there were different notice requirements depending on the number of workers being terminated. Employers also had to notify affected employees and their unions as well.

Length of temporary layoffs– Unrelated to COVID-19

The maximum duration for temporary layoffs in Alberta is 90 days total in a 120-day period. This applies if the initial date of the layoff was on or after June 18, 2020.

From March 17 to June 17, 2020, the maximum length was 120 consecutive days from the initial layoff date. Prior to March 17, 2020, it was 60 days total in a 120-day period.

Length of temporary layoffs– Related to COVID-19

If a layoff is due to COVID-19, separate rules allow employers to lay off employees for 180 consecutive days before it’s considered a termination.

Variances and exemptions

Bill 32 brings more flexible rules that would make it simpler and faster for employers to get approved for, and renew a variance or exemption.

Changes employers must know for November 1

The major changes brought on by Bill 32 will come into effect on November 1, 2020. Employers must understand these changes and implement them in their workplaces, or they will be in violation of the ESC and could face costly fines.

Holiday pay calculation

Bill 32 makes it simpler to calculate general holiday pay. Currently, the general holiday pay in Alberta is worked out by calculating the average daily wage. The average daily wage is 5% of the worker’s wages + general holiday pay + vacation pay earned in the four weeks immediately preceding the general holiday.

Under the new rules, employers will no longer have to include vacation pay or general holiday pay in the average daily wage calculation. The employee’s average daily wage will be total wages averaged over the number of days they worked in the:

  • Four weeks immediately before the general holiday, OR
  • Four weeks ending on the last day of the pay period that occurred just before the general holiday.

Correcting overpayment

Employers will no longer need written permission from the employee to deduct an overpayment due to a payroll error or for vacation pay paid in advance. But employers will still have to inform employees that overpayments will be deducted from their pay checks. The deduction must be made within six months of the overpayment.

Final pay

Upon termination under the new rules, employees get all of their final pay not later than:

  • 10 consecutive days after the end of the pay period in which termination occurred, or
  • 31 consecutive days after the last day of employment.

Currently, employees get their final pay within three or 10 consecutive days (in case proper termination notice is not given) after the last day of employment.  

Averaging arrangements

Under averaging arrangements, employers can schedule an employee to work longer hours every day paid at the employee’s regular wage rate.

Bill 32 provides for flexible rules for hours of work averaging arrangements. 

Employers will no longer need an employee’s consent to start or change an averaging arrangement. They will only be required to give an employee two weeks' notice.

Bill 32 also extends the length of averaging periods of up to 52 weeks. Extending the agreement beyond 52 weeks will need the approval of the Director of Employment Standards.

Arrangements will no longer need to have an end date. There will also be more flexibility to alter shifts, but employees must get 8 hours of rest between shifts.

Employers do not have to provide daily overtime, unless it is part of the arrangement. Weekly overtime thresholds apply, regardless of whether daily overtime is included in the arrangement.

Currently, consent is required to enter the agreement, which has an end date. The maximum length of the averaging period is up to 12 weeks.

As a result of COVID-19, from March 17, 2020, employers do not have to give employees two weeks' notice. But they must provide written notice of change in shift schedules as soon as is reasonable or possible in the circumstances.

Rest periods

Employers will have to provide:

  • At least one 30-minute break (paid or unpaid) for shifts between 5 and 10 hours
  • At least two 30-minute breaks (paid or unpaid) for shifts 10 hours or longer

Currently, an employee is entitled to at least 30 minutes of rest (paid or unpaid) after 5 consecutive hours of work.

Vacation accrual

Bill 32 will allow employees to continue to accumulate vacation time while they are on a job-protected leave, as opposed to the current ESC provisions which allow an employer to reduce an employee’s vacation and vacation pay when the employee is absent from work.

Youth employment

Bill 32 adds to the list of jobs that 13- and 14-year-olds can do without a permit. These include light janitorial work in offices, coaching, and tutoring.

If the youth is working with someone 18 or older, they can also take up certain jobs in the food services industry.

Employers would be responsible for the health and safety of young workers. They must ensure the youth are well trained and capable of doing the job. 

Administrative penalties

Employers will still have to pay a penalty for breaking rules. But the amount could be adjusted on a case-by-case basis, and employers will have more time to submit the payment.

Do you have questions about the changes to Alberta’s Employment Standards Code?

We can help you understand your obligations and rights under the new legislation. To get advice on how to maintain your business during the pandemic, call an expert today: 1 (833) 247-3652.

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