Modernizing the Canada Labour Code for a better work-life balance
The federal government recently made significant amendments to the Canada Labour Code (Code), one goal being to modernize federal labour standards to enhance work-life balance for Canadian workers. These amendments will have a considerable impact on employers and employees that fall under federal jurisdiction, which includes workplaces in the aeronautics and air transport industries. The Code improves employees’ entitlement to breaks, scheduling notices, overtime and additional leaves. Some of these significant amendments, in force since September 1, 2019, are highlighted below.
Amendments to the Code
Breaks and Rest Periods
- Thirty-minute break: Employees are entitled to an unpaid break of at least 30 minutes during every period of five consecutive hours of work, except in case of an unforeseen emergency. This break must be paid if the employer requires the employee to remain available to work during the break.
- Eight-hour rest period: Employees are entitled to a minimum of eight consecutive hours of rest between each shift or work period, except in case of an unforeseen emergency.
- Breaks for medical reasons: Employees are entitled to unpaid breaks that are necessary for medical reasons. In such cases, the employer can request in writing that an employee provide a certificate issued by a health care practitioner setting out the length and frequency of the breaks.
- Nursing breaks: Employees who are nursing are entitled to unpaid breaks that are necessary for them to nurse or express breast milk.
Work Schedule and Overtime
- 24-hour notice: Employers must give 24 hours’ written notice of any change to a scheduled work period or shift unless the change results from an employee’s request for flexible work arrangements or an unforeseen emergency.
- 96-hour notice: Employers must provide employees with their work schedules, in writing, at least 96 hours before the start of the first work period or shift under that schedule, failing which the employees may refuse to work, except where a collective agreement provides for a different period or in case of an unforeseen emergency.
- Overtime banking: Employees may reach an agreement with their employer that overtime worked will be compensated by receiving time off with pay at a rate corresponding to no less than 1½ hours for each hour of overtime worked.
- Right to refuse overtime: Employees may refuse to work overtime in order to carry out family responsibilities related to the health or care of a family member, or the education of any family member who is less than 18 years of age, except in case of an unforeseen emergency.
Vacation pay and time entitlements have also been increased, such that employees are now entitled to:
- Two weeks’ paid annual vacation (compensation representing 4% of gross earnings) after one year of continuous service.
- Three weeks’ paid annual vacation (compensation representing 6% of gross earnings) after five years of continuous service.
- Four weeks’ paid annual vacation (compensation representing 4% of gross earnings) after ten years of continuous service.
Employees may now, with their employer’s written approval, split their annual vacation into several periods.
Ad Hoc Leave
- Personal leave: Employees are entitled to a personal leave of up to five days per calendar year for the purposes of: (i) treating an illness or injury, (ii) carrying out responsibilities relating to the health or care of a family member, (iii) carrying out the responsibilities relating to the education of a family member who is under 18 years of age, (iv) managing urgent matters concerning themselves or a family member, (v) attending their citizenship ceremony, or (vi) for any other reason prescribed by regulation. The first three days of leave will be paid in the case of employees who have been working at least three months for their employer.
- Leave for victims of family violence: Employees who are a victim of family violence or are the parent of a child who is a victim of family violence are entitled to a leave of up to ten days per calendar year, in which case the first five days of leave will be paid for employees who have been working at least three months for their employer.
- Bereavement leave: In the event of the death of a member of their immediate family, employees are entitled to a leave of up to five days, in which case the first three days of leave will be paid for employees who have been working at least three months for their employer.
- Leave for court or jury duty: Employees are entitled to take unpaid leave to attend a court to act as a witness or juror in a proceeding, or to participate in a jury selection process.
- Leave for pregnant or nursing employees: Pregnant or nursing employees who are unable to work are entitled to an unpaid leave, distinct from maternity or parental leave, from the beginning of the pregnancy up until the 24th week following delivery.
- Leave for traditional Aboriginal practices: Aboriginal employees who have been working at least three months for an employer are entitled to an unpaid leave of up to five days per calendar year to engage in traditional Aboriginal practices.
- Medical leave: Employees are entitled to take an unpaid leave of up to 17 weeks for (i) personal illness or injury, (ii) organ or tissue donation, or (iii) medical appointments during working hours.
These new measures of the Code seek to enhance employee work-life balance by increasing workplace flexibility. It is now up to federal employers to review their policies, employment contracts and/or collective agreements to ensure that they comply with these new measures. If you would like practical advice for employers or more information on the Code amendments in force since September 1, 2019, do not hesitate to contact us and we will be pleased to help you.
 Most of the break, rest period and work schedule requirements do not apply in cases of unforeseen emergencies, which are defined as a situation (i) that the employer could not have reasonably foreseen, and (ii) that presents, or could reasonably be expected to present an imminent or serious: a) threat to the life, health and safety of any person; b) threat of damage to or loss of property; or c) threat of serious interference with the ordinary working of the employer’s industrial establishment.
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