The Liberal Government continues to implement its promises to electors. On June 22, 2017, Bill C-44, an omnibus bill to implement the latest federal budget, received Royal Assent. Several changes to the Canada Labour Code were passed that will affect federally regulated employers, both unionized and not unionized. A date has not yet been set for when the changes will be in force, but employers should review and prepare policy amendments to be ready. The key amendments include:
Unpaid wages recovery: the period for recovering unpaid wages is extended from 12 to 24 months.
Unpaid leaves of absence:
Employees with a newborn or adopted child:
- Female employees will be permitted to begin their maternity leave up to 13 weeks prior to their due date - an increase from the current 11 weeks.
- Employees will be entitled to take an unpaid leave of absence of up to 63 weeks to care for newborn or adopted children - an increase from the current 37 weeks.
- The combined amount of maternity and parental leave that one or two employees may take for the same birth or adoption will increase to 78 weeks from the current 52 weeks.
- The combined amount of parental leave that two employees may take for the same birth or adoption will increase to 63 weeks from the current 37 weeks.
Employees with a Critically Ill Child or Family Member
- The definition of those eligible to take a leave of absence to care for a critically ill child will be expanded beyond a parent, to include an extended family member of a critically ill child. The eligibility period, (six months of continuous employment) and length of absence (37 weeks) will remain the same.
- Employees who have completed six months of continuous employment will be eligible for an unpaid leave of absence of up to 17 weeks to care for, or support a critically ill family member who is an adult.
Of note, sections have been added to the Canada Labour Code to enhance enforcement and the ability of employees to seek redress for Code violations. A section called “Administrative Monetary Penalties” has been added. Employers will be exposed to penalties of up to $250,000.00, and any officer, director, agent, or any other person with managerial or supervisory functions can be liable for the penalty. We are waiting to see future regulations that will identify the specific Code provisions to which the penalties will apply. The limitation period for notices of violation will be two years from the date of the alleged violation.
Provisions to guard against reprisals (retaliation) have also been added. An employee who believes that their employer is retaliating because of a complaint can complain to the Canada Industrial Relations Board.
The amendments also expand the authority of inspectors to issue compliance orders and allow the Minister of Labour to order an employer to conduct an internal audit for compliance.
The Canada Labour Code applies to approximately 18,000 employers and 900,000 employees, or about six percent of Canadian workers. Federally regulated sectors include:
- marine shipping, ferry and port services
- air transportation, including airports, aerodromes and airlines
- railway and road transportation that involves crossing provincial or international borders
- canals, pipelines, tunnels and bridges (crossing provincial borders)
- telephone, telegraph and cable systems
- radio and television broadcasting
- grain elevators, feed and seed mills
- uranium mining and processing
- businesses dealing with the protection of fisheries as a natural resource
- many First Nation activities
- most federal Crown corporations; and
- private businesses necessary to the operation of a federal act
Provincially regulated employers should not be complacent about the changes that apply to leaves of absence. In the face of the Federal Government’s commitment to improving leave options for prospective parents and families experiencing the challenges of managing critical illness, all employers will be challenged to implement policies that are consistent with the extensions to leave provisions introduced by Bill C-44. It is certain that provincial employment standards, including Nova Scotia’s Labour Standards Code, will be amended to follow these federal changes.
If you have any questions about this article, or about implementing good human resource policies in your workplace, please contact Claire E. Milton, Q.C. in our employment and labour group.