Canada Labour Code changes coming at end of summer

Federally regulated employers should mark their calendars for Sept. 1 changes to rules for breaks, scheduling, holidays, and leaves of absence
By Deborah Cushing
|employmentlawtoday.com|Last Updated: 07/12/2019
Sept. 1 changes effect all federally regulated employers. Credit: Google Maps

Summer is often a time for rest and relaxation but federally regulated employers will need to spend at least part of the summer months preparing for significant changes to the Canada Labour Code, which come into effect Sept.1, 2019. These changes are in addition to amendments that have already come into force and further changes that are pending, all in the federal government’s efforts to modernize the code.

The changes effective Sept.1 include these five major areas summarized below:

Breaks and rest periods

  • 30 minute breaks – Every employee is to be provided with an unpaid break of at least 30 minutes during every period of five consecutive hours of work. If the employer requires the employee to be available during the break, the break period is to be paid.
  • 8 hours’ rest between shifts – Every employee is to be provided with a rest period of at least eight consecutive hours between work periods or shifts, except in emergency situations.
  • Breaks for health reasons – Employees are entitled to unpaid breaks for medical reasons and employees who are nursing are entitled to breaks to nurse or express breast milk.

Shift scheduling and overtime

  • 96 hours’ notice of shift schedule – Employees are to be provided with their work schedule in writing at least 96 hours before the start of the first scheduled work period or shift. Employees may refuse a shift that starts within 96 hours of the time they receive the schedule, except in emergency situations.
  • 24 hours’ notice of shift change – If a shift is changed, the employee is to be provided with at least 24 hours’ written notice of the change, except in emergency situations.
  • Overtime as time off – Subject to some conditions, an employee who works overtime may elect to have pay or time off at the overtime rate of at least 1½ times the regular rate.
  • Right to refuse overtime – Except in emergency situations, employees may refuse overtime to carry out certain family responsibilities, if they have carried out reasonable steps to address those responsibilities prior to refusing the overtime.

Vacations and general holidays

  • Vacations – Employees are now entitled to vacation time of at least two weeks (four per cent vacation pay) if they have completed one year of employment; at least three weeks (6 per cent vacation pay) if they have completed at least five consecutive years of employment; and at least four weeks (eight per cent vacation pay) if they have completed at least 10 consecutive years of employment.
  • General holidays – Employees are now entitled to holiday pay for a general holiday that occurs in the first 30 days of employment. Federally regulated employers should prepare for this change as the first general holiday after the effective date is Labour Day on Sept. 2.

Leaves of absence

  • Personal leave – Employees are entitled to personal leave of up to five days per calendar year for specified purposes such as illness or injury or caring for family members. If the employee has completed three consecutive months of continuous employment, the first three days of personal leave each calendar year are with pay. This leave came into effect in December 2018 and replaces family responsibility leave which otherwise would have come into effect Sept. 1. 
  • Victims of family violence – An employee who is a victim of family violence or who is the parent of a child who is the victim of family violence is entitled to a leave of absence of up to 10 days in a calendar year. The first five days of leave each calendar year are with pay if the employee has completed three consecutive months of continuous employment.
  • Traditional Aborginal practices – An employee who is an Aboriginal person and who has completed three consecutive months of continuous employment is entitled to an unpaid leave of up to five days per calendar year to engage in traditional Aboriginal practices.
  • Court or jury duty – Employees are entitled to an unpaid leave of absence to attend court as a witness, a juror, or to participate in a jury selection process.
  • Bereavement leave – This leave has increased from three days to five days with respect to the death of an immediate family member and three of those days are with pay if the employee has completed three consecutive months of continuous employment.
  • No minimum service – There will no longer be a minimum service requirement for employees to be eligible for these leaves: maternity; parental; critical illness; or death or disappearance of a child.

Flexible work arrangements

  • Employee request – Employees with six months of service may make a written request for changes to: hours of work; work schedule; location of work; or terms and conditions of work.
  • Employer response – Employers may grant all or part of the request or may refuse the request but only based on the grounds identified in the code or by regulation. When addressing requests for flexible work arrangements, employers should consider whether their independent duty to accommodate under the Canadian Human Rights Act is engaged by the request.

These changes are just some of the recent amendments to the code, with more likely on the way.

Deborah Cushing is a partner with Lawson Lundell in Vancouver, practicing labour and employment law. She can be reached at (604) 631-9282 or dcushing@lawsonlundell.com.

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