On March 20, 2018, Quebec’s National Assembly introduced Bill 176, proposing modifications to Quebec’s Act Respecting Labour Standards. The Quebec legislature has stated that Bill 176 is principally aimed at improving work/life balance, and reflects a change of thinking within Quebec society which has called for the need to modernize the rules applicable in the workplace.

While early feedback with respect to the proposed legislation has, to a large extent, expressed disappointment at the modifications not going as far as initially promised, there are still some notable changes that Quebec employers should monitor closely.

Increasing work/life balance

Bill 176 proposes increased family time by introducing the reduction in the number of years of continuous service required by an employer before an employee may benefit from three weeks annual vacation. While the legislation currently requires five years of continuous service, the new law would see this reduced to three. Other measures in this respect include granting employees the right to refuse to work if they have not received their work schedule at least five days in advance, and requiring that the first two days out of the allotted 10 for parental/family leave be remunerated.

Greater flexibility in some respects; less in others

Bill 176 would give employers greater flexibility in planning the workweek of their employees. Notably, it would allow for the staggering of working hours over a maximum of four weeks, while also allowing a workweek to surpass, by a maximum of 10 hours, the norm currently provided for by law. It also proposes to eliminate the obligation to obtain authorization from the former Labour Standards Commission (now CNESST) in order to stagger working hours on a basis other than a weekly basis.

A critical and surprising provision would prevent employers from providing more advantageous benefits and retirement plans to employees with greater seniority in the company, requiring instead that such conditions be the same for all employees who are performing the same tasks within the same establishment. It is expected that this particular provision will be heavily criticized by unions, while others have already noted that it takes away a means for employers to reward the loyalty of their longstanding employees.

Other modifications of note

Bill 176 also aims to reinforce the prevention of harassment in the workplace. If adopted, the proposed legislation would require that employers develop an anti-harassment policy that, like in other Canadian provinces, includes a mechanism for addressing harassment complaints internally. The new legislation would also make explicit the fact that sexual harassment constitutes harassment under the law (even though it has already been interpreted as such by Quebec courts).

In addition, the proposed legislation recognizes the fact that temporary and foreign workers have historically been faced with especially poor working conditions. In an attempt to redress this situation, the legislation proposes the regulation of placement agencies, who would be required to obtain a permit from the Commission in order to operate, thereby creating a formal protection regime for employees hired through such agencies.

If passed, the proposed modifications highlighted above are sure to incite significant debate and discussion in the coming weeks. We will continue to monitor any developments with respect to the adoption of Bill 176.