Working Wise: Employment standards makes interesting changes

Dear Working Wise: I heard that new Employment Standards changes are taking effect in the New Year. What’s changing? Signed Curious Cabinetmaker

Dear Curious: Alberta’s workplaces have evolved since the Employment Standards Code was last updated in 1988.

The Government of Alberta consulted with employers, labour organizations and collected nearly 5,000 survey responses from the public regarding the legislation. That input was used to modernize the Code and align our standards with the rest of Canada.

You can read a summary of the Employment Standards Code changes taking effect January 1, 2018 at alberta.ca/employment-standards-changes.aspx.

Here are some of the more interesting changes.

Breaks—Employees will be entitled to at least one 30-minute break—paid or unpaid—within every five consecutive hours of work.

Compressed work weeks—now called Hours of Work Averaging Agreements—allow employees to average work hours over a period of 1 to 12 weeks for the purpose of determining overtime eligibility. Work weeks may also be compressed as part of these agreements.

Flexible Average Agreements—allow for hour-for-hour time off when employees work extra hours within certain restrictions.

Deductions—the Code will be clarified to explicitly prohibit paycheque deductions for faulty workmanship and cash shortages like dine-and-dashes and gas-and-dashes.

Overtime Agreements—will allow time to be banked for six months rather than three. Overtime banking must be calculated at 1.5 hours for each overtime hour worked.

General Holidays—the requirement to have worked for 30 days in the 12 months before the holiday will be removed. The distinction between regular and non-regular days of work will be eliminated. General Holiday pay will be calculated as five per cent of wages, general holiday pay, and vacation pay earned in the four weeks immediately preceding the holiday.

Vacations—half-day vacation increments will be allowed, up from a minimum of one day.

Termination and Temporary Layoffs—Employers will be prohibited from forcing employees to use vacation or overtime entitlements during a termination notice period. Termination pay will be calculated based on the previous 13 weeks of work.

Leaves—a number of new unpaid job-protected leaves are being added, including short and long-term illness, critical illness of an adult or a child, bereavement and others. In addition, the eligibility period for work leaves is being reduced.

Penalty system—a new administrative penalty system is being implemented for employers found to be contravening the Code.

Youth—youth under age 13 will only be allowed to work artistic endeavors, e.g., theatre production, with a permit. Youth aged 13-15 will be restricted to “light work”. Teens 16-17 years old will be allowed to do “Hazardous Work” with a permit, proper training, and supervision. Permits are not needed if the youth is registered in a work experience program. These changes will not take effect until light work and hazardous work are defined in early 2018. Until that time, the current rules for youth employment remain.

These changes will not affect youth activities such as babysitting, 4-H or branding parties, and won’t stop friends and neighbours from helping each other as they have done for generations.

If you are subject to a collective agreement, there may be a transition period before the new rules come into effect for you. To learn more, visit alberta.ca/employment-standards-changes.aspx.

Do you have a work-related question? Send your questions to Working Wise, at charles.strachey@gov.ab.ca. Charles Strachey is a manager with Alberta Community and Social Services. This column is provided for general information.

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