Alberta Employment Standards Code and Coronavirus

[COVID-19] Temporary Updates to the Alberta Employment Standards Code

On April 6th, 2020, Alberta announced further temporary changes to the Alberta Employment Standards Code, in order to provide both workers and employers with further flexibility and support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Changes to Unpaid Leave

Employees who are unable to work because they are caring for children affected by school and daycare closures, or are caring for ill, or self-isolated family members due to COVID-19, will now have access to unpaid job-protected leave. Employees do not need to be employed for a minimum of 90 days by the employer to qualify for this leave, which is a departure from the previous rules governing unpaid leave. The length of the leave remains flexible and will be largely linked to guidance from the Chief Medical Officer of Health.

Changes to Temporary Layoffs

Alberta has increased the maximum time for a temporary layoff from 60 days to 120 days, in order to create greater flexibility for employers, and ensure that employees stay attached to a job for longer. These changes are retroactive and apply to all temporary layoffs that occurred on or after March 17, 2020. Before these temporary changes, once an employee had been temporarily laid off for a period of 60 days within a 120-day period, they were deemed terminated. Now that Alberta has temporarily extended this time period, a temporary layoff will not crystalize into the termination of the employment relationship until the 120-day mark. Read more about temporary layoffs here.

Changes to Group Terminations

Pursuant to section 137 of the Employment Standards Code, employers are required to provide advance notice to employees and unions, as well as the Minister of Labour when fifty or more employees are being terminated within a four week period. Under the new changes, Alberta is waiving the notice requirement for group terminations as it applies to employees and unions. However, employers must still provide notice to the Minister of Labour as soon as practicable.

Changes to Notice Requirements Regarding Averaging Agreements

Under the current legislation, employers are required to provide an employee at least two weeks’ notice of any temporary changes made to their work schedule, when that work schedule is subject to an hours of work averaging agreement. Under the new changes, the two-week notice requirement is waived, however, employers are encouraged to provide reasonable notice whenever possible. These changes provide further flexibility to employers by allowing them to respond quickly to fluid workforce demands.

A More Streamlined Process for Modifying Changes to Employment Standards

Alberta also announced that the government will be attempting to streamline the process for approvals related to the modification of employment standards as related to COVID-19, so that both employers and employees can respond more quickly to changing conditions in the workplace. Although no further details were provided on how the government plans to put this into action, it is likely that variances to employment standards will be granted more quickly in order to provide maximum flexibility for both employers and employees.

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