Alberta employers will soon have to adapt to longer employee absences.

The Alberta government has introduced a broad reform of the Alberta Employment Standards Code (The “Code”).  The revisions to the legislation governing non-unionized employees in Alberta was given royal assent on June 7, 2017.  The proposed implementation date for the revised Code is January 1, 2018.

The biggest changes affect job-protected leave, which is the employee’s right to return to a job after having taken unpaid leave.

Under the current legislation, an employee must have been employed for a full year before there is any entitlement to unpaid leave.  That will be reduced to just 90 days under the revised Code.

The revised Code will also expand the types of unpaid job protected leave available as well as increase the amount of leave available:

Maternity leave up to 15 weeks up to 16 weeks
Parental leave up to 37 weeks up to 37 weeks (no change)
Reservists leave up to 26 consecutive weeks up to 26 consecutive weeks (no change)
Compassionate care leave
(leave to care for a critically ill family member)
up to 8 weeks up to 27 weeks
Death or disappearance of a child N/A

up to 52 weeks for disappearance of a child due to crime

up to 104 weeks if the child has died as a result of a crime

Critical illness of a child N/A up to 36 weeks
Domestic violence leave N/A up to 10 days
Personal and family responsibility leave N/A up to 5 days
Bereavement leave N/A (Alberta has been one of the few jurisdictions that do not have specific statutory protection for bereavement leave.) 3 days
Citizenship ceremony leave N/A one-half day

In most cases, the notice that an employee must give before returning to work will be significantly shorter. For most forms of leave, employees will be able to return to their jobs after taking leave with only 48 hours’ notice.

Employers will have to be ready for the transition. As many types of leaves are often sought under sudden and sometimes traumatic circumstances, employers may not always receive ample notice prior to a leave requirement.  Depending on the employer’s particular situation, preparatory steps may include ensuring workers are trained to fill in for employees who take extended leaves or considering sources of temporary workers.

Other changes

In addition to the expanded leave provisions, there will be a number of other changes to the existing legislation:

  • Employees will no longer need to have a full year of service before being eligible for general holiday pay.
  • Earned “time off in lieu of overtime”, where a written agreement with employees is in place, can now be banked for up to six months, instead of just three.
  • The minimum age for youth employment is increasing from 12 to 13.
  • Director’s permits authorizing contraventions of the Act will no longer be available. (Under the current legislation, an employer could apply for a Director’s permit to seek permission to have an employee work for longer than 12 consecutive hours in any work day. Such a permit can no longer be issued.)
  • The enforcement provisions under the Code are being strengthened. Employment Standards officers will have broader powers to issue compliance orders.  The time under which a notice of administrative penalty may be issued is now two years.