Workers Health & Safety Centre

New Federal employment standards, what’s in force and what is not

Weak employment standards negatively impact worker health and safety, particularly as they relate to hours of work and the employment relationship.
Will recent changes to federal employment standards help? Many provisions have yet to come into force, others have built in loopholes and important issues raised during federal consultations leading to these changes remain unaddressed.
The majority of Canada’s employment standards were developed in the 1960’s when workers were generally employed in full-time, permanent jobs with living wages and benefits. Today, workers are increasingly employed in part-time, temporary, contract or otherwise precarious working relationships. Many juggle more than one job.
A considerable body of research has documented significant health effects associated with this precarity. Although recent news headlines also remind us of the immediate and tragic consequences of precarious work arrangements facilitated by temp help agencies and the employers who use them.

Consultation informs amendments

Amendments to the Canada Labour Code follow on an extensive consultation exploring what a new set of labour standards might look like for the 900,000 employees in federally-regulated private sector industries such as inter-provincial transportation, telecommunications and most federal Crown corporations. The labour standards do not apply to the federal public service.
During the consultation, workers, their representatives, advocates and experts cited many concerns including unpredictable scheduling and hours of work, cancelled shifts and lack of time off between work periods.
The federal government published a consultation report summarizing concerns about existing labour standards and suggestions for what new standards should look like. These informed amendments to Part III of the Code which were included in Bill C-86, an omnibus piece of legislation. Some came into force on September 1, 2019.

New provisions and exemptions

Advanced notice of work schedules and shift changes are two important changes to the Canada Labour Code now in force. Employers are now required to provide a work schedule in writing at least 96 hours before the start of a shift or work period. Employers are also required to give at least 24 hours’ written notice of any change to a shift or work period. Workers can refuse this scheduled work and shift changes and an employer may not punish them for refusing. This right though is subject to exemptions and employees cannot refuse work if alternative arrangements exist in their collective agreement.
Workers are also now entitled to 30 minute unpaid break every five consecutive hours of work, along with additional breaks needed for medical reasons, for nursing or to express breast milk. They are also entitled to at least eight hours off between shifts. These rights too are subject to certain exceptions.
Worker access to new personal leave up to five days each calendar year has been added to the Code. These days can be taken to deal with an illness or injury or carry out responsibilities related to the health or care of a family member, education of a family member under 18 years of age or to attend citizenship ceremony. After three months of continuous employment the first three days are paid.

Additional examples of new worker rights now in force include:
  • New right to request flexible work arrangements including hours, location, and work schedule
  • New right to refuse overtime when it conflicts with family responsibilities
  • New right to lieu time instead of overtime pay
  • New family violence leave provisions, some of which are paid
  • Enhanced vacation entitlements, and
  • Continuity of employment in situations where work is transferred or retendered.   

Delayed amendments

Unfortunately, not all amendments to the Code have the force of law yet. Examples of new or enhanced rights or obligations not yet in force include:
  • Employers must take action to eliminate pay differences between men and women
  • Employers must provide equal pay for equal work regardless of employment status (i.e. full time versus part time)
  • Employers to prove they have not misclassified employees as independent contractors
  • Temp help agencies must not charge placement fees or impede those who wish to establish permanent work relationships with a contracting employer 
  • Enhanced rights to notice and termination of employment, and
  • Minimum employment age raised from 17 to 18.  

Some of these amendments are contingent on others coming into force. Regardless, no future dates have been named for their implementation. As Ontario saw with provisions designed to protect temp agency workers, without specific named dates legislative amendments can languish without implementation for years. Even then, when required supporting regulations go undeveloped, workers go unprotected still. Of course, hard-won worker rights can also be repealed, as was the case with Ontario’s new employment standards, now repealed with the passage of Bill 47.

Unaddressed concerns

Of concerns that went unaddressed by the new federal employment standards, the “right to disconnect” from work after normal work hours is perhaps the most significant. This despite the government’s consultations which found more than 90 per cent of Canadians surveyed believe employees should have the right not to respond to communication outside work hours.
For our part, Workers Health & Safety Centre continues to assist workplace parties through training programs and information services. WHSC offers specific training on Federal Committees and Prevention Programs, both of which provide essential learning on the role and responsibilities of workplace and policy committees. Several other WHSC programs focus on raising awareness about hours of work, work stress and many other factors hindering safer, healthier work.

To learn more:
Call: 1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak with a training services representative