How will Canada Labour Code changes affect employers?

On Sept. 1, federally regulated employers will see the impact of several changes to the Canada Labour Code, including the new right for employees to request flexible working arrangements, as well as new leaves and other measures supporting workplace flexibility.

“The changes to the code . . . will support employees in achieving better work-life balance and benefit employers through increased productivity, decreased absenteeism, enhanced recruitment and retention and more flexible and effective workforce utilization,” according to a note in the Canada Gazette. “They will also support women’s participation in the labour market and help foster greater gender equality in Canada’s workforce and contribute to inclusive growth.”

The amendments introduce provisions supporting flexibility in the workplace, including allowing overtime to be compensated through paid time off, providing employees with the limited right to refuse overtime and allowing for the division, interruption and postponement of vacation leave.

Read: How will 2018’s employment law changes play out for employers in 2019?

Under the changes, the three new leaves include: up to five days of personal leave with the first three days paid; up to 10 days of leave for victims of family violence, with five of these paid by the employer; and up to five days of leave for traditional Aboriginal practices. As well, the amendments expand bereavement leave from three to five days with employers paying the first three days.

“What we’re seeing now with these changes to the federal Canada Labour Code is really part of a very significant, overall trend that we’ve been seeing in the last two to three years,” says George Vassos, a partner at Littler LLP. “Governments — whether they’re provincial or federal — tend to be active in the employment arena. And one of the reasons they’re active is it’s very visible.

“So for most people, family is most important and then second on the list is their work life, their work environment. So when governments enter into this arena, they’re impacting employers and employees on a day-to-day basis. These are real changes that are happening and will be impacting people day to day.”

Read: Majority of Canadian employees rank work-life balance as good, excellent: survey

The amendments signify improvements for both employers and employees, says Vassos, pointing to two main focal points. “The first one is relative to operations and increased demands on employers now, relative to striking a better balance between the nature of their operations and what they require, at the end of the day, versus employees. And employees looking for a better work-life balance, more predictability, in terms of scheduling and so on.”

The second focus is the cost element, says Vassos, noting the changes to vacation time could mean employers will have to factor in the cost of additional overtime or temporary employees. “And that’s obviously the government’s intention in that regard: to try and strike a better work-life balance.”

But some employers won’t experience any change, he adds, because they’re already offering some “potentially excessive [days] at the other end of the scale that smaller federal employers may not be offering.”

The federal legislation governs about 10 per cent of the workforce in Canada, including industries such as airlines, railways, television and radio stations and telecommunications companies.

Read: A summary of Ontario’s changing employment and labour legislation