In 2018, several significant employment and labour law changes were rolled out across Canada, especially in Ontario, which saw a change of government in June.
“These changes will no doubt have an important impact on your workplace,” said Chelsea Rasmussen, an employment and labour law associate at Dentons LLP, speaking during a webinar hosted by the law firm last month. “However, in addition to these changes, we saw employers grapple with allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace in light of the #MeToo movement.”
In late 2018, Ontario’s amendments to its Employment Standards Act included replacing the 10 days of personal emergency leave introduced by the former Liberal government with three days of personal illness leave, three days of family responsibility leave and two days of bereavement leave, all of which are unpaid. As well, the changes brought back the option for employers to request a medical note from employees taking sick leave, family responsibility leave or bereavement leave.
The amendments also removed equal pay for equal work on the basis of employment status, but the requirement for equal pay on the basis of sex remains under the new bill, said Catherine Coulter, an employment and labour lawyer at Dentons. “This provision has nothing to do with the Pay Equity Act. The Pay Equity Act, of course, requires equal pay on the basis of sex and remains in force and governs all Ontario private sector employers with 10 or more employees.”
As well, collective agreements will now be made available to the public through the Ontario government’s website, and the province’s new leaves of absence — child death and domestic or sexual violence — will remain in place, said Coulter.
Also in 2018, Alberta overhauled its employment standards for the first time in 30 years. The changes included guaranteed job protection for new unpaid leaves, such as five days of personal and family responsibility leave, three days of bereavement leave and a 36-week leave for the critical illness of a child.
“Luckily for Alberta, the changes have not been nearly as much as Ontario, but we’ll wait to see if we get a new government coming up in the next year and maybe we’ll be in the same position,” said Adrien Elmslie, head of Dentons’ labour and employment group in Edmonton. “For now, for the most part, I think the changes that came into place last year . . . employers have generally [been] getting used to those changes.”
Quebec has also undergone a revision to its employment standards, said Virginie Dandurand, an employment and labour lawyer at Dentons in Montreal. “The main purpose is to help employees find a balance between their work and family obligations, she said, noting part of those amendments came into force in June 2018.
The changes expanded an employee’s right to take a leave of absence for family or parental reasons by adding the term ‘relative,’ she added. In Quebec, ‘relative’ now includes the child, father, mother, brother, sister and grandparents of the employee or their spouse, including the spouses of those mentioned, their children and the children’s spouses.
British Columbia is seeing rumblings of the changes in other provinces, but it isn’t there yet when it comes to employment standards, according to Taylor Buckley, an employment and labour law associate at Dentons. What’s coming down the pipeline, though, is a new “payroll tax on employers which is paid regardless and helps subsidize the program everywhere, similar to what we see in other provinces.”
The health tax, which took effect on Jan. 1, 2019, aims to eliminate the province’s medical services plan premiums.
The province is also seeing a move for the return of a Human Rights Commission since B.C. is the only jurisdiction in the country without one, added Buckley.