Employment Standards Compliance – are you ready?

On January 1, 2018 the majority of The Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act (also known as Bill 17) comes into effect, and Alberta will see changes to employment legislation that we haven’t seen in 30 years! In many cases, it will bring us up-to-date with, and comparable to, other provinces and federal legislation. Question – Do you know what’s involved in getting ready for these changes?

The other day I was in a meeting and a leader of that organization said – “I’m not too worried about the changes as our organization provides benefits above the minimum standards prescribed by employment legislation…..we are good to go!” Interesting, but are they really good to go? Do they realize that the Bill has introduced new entitlements such as leaves that are not even considered in our current legislation and/or in some of our workplaces? More importantly, have they prepared their managers to speak confidently about the changes and in some cases operate in the “grey zone” when it is not always clear legislatively what the entitlement is and who it applies to? Have they looked at payroll and budget implications particularly with respect to overtime and/or job protected leaves, and the fact that employees may be on leaves longer or may take additional leaves? Have these organizations looked at changes that need to be made to their payroll and human resource information systems to accurately reflect and capture the changes?

In my opinion, there are four main action items that need to be taken in order to be ready for the legislative changes – they are as follows:

  • Review and update your policies to ensure compliance;
  • Communicate changes to staff;
  • Update forecasts, budgeting, payroll and human resource information systems; and
  • Train your managers on the new legislation.

There are a number of websites and articles on the internet that capture the changes to the legislation. The best resource is always the source of the change, and that would be the Alberta Government. The following website provides an excellent summary of the legislated changes – https://www.alberta.ca/workplace-legislation-changes.aspx.

I would like to focus on the impact to organizations around job protected leaves, general holidays and general holiday pay, as well as termination and temporary layoffs.

Job Protected Leaves

Compassionate care leave is a current entitlement that is reflected in most organizations’ policy and procedure manuals. You will need to plan for 27 weeks rather than the current eight weeks, which is a significant increase for staff that take this leave, not to mention, the entitlement will extend to employees who have been with the organization for 90 days or more. The leave will also be extended to non-primary care givers. Here is an example where managers will need to be informed and taught how to properly respond when employees make inquiries about compassionate leave. Additionally, managers will need to be aware of, and stay connected with, employees who have critically ill family members. Having a back-up plan for that employee and being able to execute in two weeks or less will be important. Being nimble is going to be a requirement!

There are a number of new leaves that will require us to train our managers to manage in the “grey zone”, which are situations where legislation is not entirely clear on entitlement and/or how to administer. An example of this will be Personal and Family Responsibility Leave (five days), Long-Term Illness and Injury Leave (16 weeks) and Domestic Violence Leave (ten days). Currently, many managers struggle to accommodate employees who have challenging or inconsistent child care arrangements, elder care, and doctor’s appointments. Determining when a request for time off is reasonable and within the legislation will become even more challenging and the documentation to substantiate a leave entitlement may be unknown. For example, how and who will certify the need for a Domestic Violence Leave? This will have implications around who professionally can certify this leave and what are the privacy implications with respect to requesting such a leave. Establishing consistency with internal practices around these newly legislated leaves and teaching our managers how to respond in order that employees are treated fairly, consistently, and their privacy is protected will be critical. Without consistency and clear guidelines for our managers, organizations will run the risk of employees claiming discriminatory behaviour on the part of their manager and the organization.

General Holidays and General Holiday Pay

General holidays and general holiday pay will be an entitlement for employees upon hire as the requirement to have worked for 30 days in the 12 months before the holiday will be removed. The amount organizations pay out in general holiday will increase, as the distinction between regular and non-regular days of work will be eliminated. Also, general holiday pay will now be calculated at 5% of wages, general holiday pay, and vacation pay earned in the 4 weeks immediately preceding the holiday. These changes will increase your payroll costs, alter your payroll practices, and require managers to re-think scheduling and budgeting. Changes will need to be effectively communicated to employees. Planning ahead will be important as the effective day of the legislation change is on a general holiday – January 1st!

Termination and Temporary Layoffs

There are a number of changes being made to termination and temporary layoffs, which will impact the costs upon termination. The current practices around requiring employees to use entitlements such as vacation or overtime during a termination notice will be gone and as such, these payments will be made in addition to notice. Also, indefinite layoffs in the past have been a means for employers to postpone severance payments during challenging economic conditions. However, this will be eliminated by requiring layoffs be limited to 60 days within a 120 day period.

Furthermore, termination costs will increase, as termination pay will be calculated based on the previous 13 weeks of employment when the employee actually worked, not simply the calendar weeks preceding the termination. Once again, these changes will impact labour costs, budgets, payroll calculations and information systems. Managers will need to understand the increased cost associated with having to let a staff member go, which will make it even more important for managers to make certain they properly assess new hires and let them go during the probationary period (first three months) if there is not a good match.

What’s the impact of non-compliance or not being prepared for the changes? A new administrative penalty system will be implemented for employers found to be in contravention of the Code. Employment Standards Officers will be given the authority to direct employers to conduct self-audits in a form prescribed by the Ministry, which will be time consuming and disruptive to business. Managers may make mistakes and employees may be confused and disgruntled.

I strongly encourage organizations to put a plan in place to get ready, and to be proactive in speaking with your managers and employees about the changes. Engaging your management team as you review policies and procedures to ensure you are prepared will give them confidence to discuss the changes with their staff, and plan accordingly in regards to the impact on staffing and scheduling. Employment legislation hasn’t changed in 30 years so let’s embrace it, and demonstrate to our organizations and employees that we are ready!

Salopek & Associates recognizes the importance of ensuring your management team fully understands the implications of these Employment Standards changes and how compliance will impact your business and employees. If you need help with updating your policy and procedures or offering training to your managers on the changes please give Salopek & Associates a call – we can support you!

Reference: Government of Alberta, Employment Standards Code changes

This article was originally featured in the CPHR Alberta’s HUMAN Capital Magazine – Winter 2017. Check it out for more great articles specific to Employment Standards.

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