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Flexible Work Arrangements Proposed by the Government of Canada

The Government of Canada recently completed a consultation with employers, employer associations, union and labour organizations, and advocacy groups as part of its pledge to amend the Canada Labour Code to allow workers in federally regulated sectors to formally request flexible work arrangements from their employers.

What Are Flexible Work Arrangements?

Flexible work arrangements are alternative arrangements to the traditional working week. The most common forms allow an individual employee to alter, on a temporary or permanent basis, his or her work schedule, the number of hours worked or the location where work is done, or to take time off to meet specific responsibilities. Some examples include:

  • Flexible start and finish times;
  • The ability to work from home;
  • Compressed work weeks: working for longer periods of time per day or shift over a defined period of time in exchange for a day off;
  • Split shifts;
  • Time swaps: An employee requests time off for personal reasons and offers to make it up by working longer than usual hours on another day; and
  • Time off in lieu: Overtime can be compensated by time off with pay at the rate of 1.5 hours per overtime hour worked.

According to Employment and Social Development Canada (“ESDC”), flexible work arrangements would help Canadians balance work and family or other personal responsibilities.

Who Will This Affect?

The proposed changes will apply only to federally regulated enterprises which fall under the Canada Labour Code. Some examples include businesses and industries such as banking, marine shipping, ferry and port services, air transportation, railway and road transportation that involves crossing provincial or international borders, telephone and cable systems, radio and television broadcasting, many First Nations activities and most federal Crown corporations. Approximately 11,450 employers and 883,000 workers would be captured by any flexible work rules enacted.

Businesses that follow provincial employment standards legislation would not be affected by the proposed changes. However, these employers are still able to offer flexible work arrangements to their employees provided that the arrangement does not violate provincial employment standards legislation.

No date has been set for when the proposed changes are expected to come into force.

Scope of the Right

ESDC has acknowledged that the proposed changes will not create a right to a flexible work arrangement. Rather, employees would have the right to request a flexible work arrangement. Employers may have legitimate business reasons for denying such a request. Currently however, the grounds for refusing such a request have not yet been set out.

Things to Consider

Flexible work arrangements have potential benefits for employers such as improved employee retention rates, improved productivity, increased job satisfaction, reduced absenteeism and lateness, and being able to schedule work over longer portions of the day.

However, flexible work arrangements may have negative impacts, particularly on the operations of small businesses due to their generally more limited resources to deal with additional administrative burdens. Other concerns raised by employers include potential additional costs, disruptions due to having to reorganize work amongst existing staff, insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work and problems recruiting additional staff.

The extent to which these potential benefits and drawbacks will affect employers will depend on what changes are made to the Canada Labour Code as well as each employer’s business characteristics.

We will continue to monitor developments to the government’s proposal and provide updates as more information about the proposed changes to the Canada Labour Code become known.

Flexible Work Arrangements Proposed by the Government of Canada

Federal Pay Equity Legislation Promised

Legislation coming to the Federally Regulated Employment Sector (and possibly provincially-regulated employers enrolled in the Federal Contractors Program)

The Canadian pay equity model requires employers to assess the value of female-dominated jobs and male-dominated jobs within an organization by evaluating the value of the jobs on the basis of skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions. Female-dominated jobs which are paid less than male-dominated jobs of the same or comparable value need to be paid the same.  This type of job evaluation permits jobs with entirely dissimilar job functions to be valued. The Equal Wages Guidelines, 1986 under the Canadian Human Rights Act was arguably the first piece of pay equity legislation in the country.  This was followed by private sector pay equity laws in Ontario and Quebec.  However, the provincial laws do not simply rely on employee or union complaints and, instead, set out a proactive compliance regime with various milestones and deadlines.  The Equal Wages Guidelines, 1986, on the other hand, are complaint-based and have a history of spawning notoriously lengthy litigation.

The Special Committee on Pay Equity tabled its First Report to Parliament on June 10, 2016. Among its 31 recommendations, the Special Committee recommends that the Government of Canada draft proactive gender pay equity legislation within 18 months of the tabling of the Report to apply to the federal public service, Crown corporations,  federally regulated companies with 15 or more employees, and companies participating in the Federal Contractors Program.  Federally regulated employers in Ontario and Quebec which can provide evidence of compliance with the provincial legislation would be exempt from the federal pay equity plan, monitoring and reporting requirements.

The Report recommends the creation of a pay equity commission and a pay equity tribunal. The legislation would require both unions and employers to be responsible for modeling, implementing, monitoring and maintaining pay equity plans and would prohibit unions and employers from negotiating collective agreements that would contravene the pay equity legislation.  In fact, it was recommended that the legislation should stipulate that any pay equity agreement would supersede a collective bargaining agreement.  A female-dominated job class would be one with at least 60% female incumbents for job classifications with 100 or more employees, or at least 70% female for job classifications with fewer than 100 employees.

The federal government announced in October 2016 that it first plans to consult with stakeholders and experts and then table proactive pay equity legislation by 2018. The legislation will cover 874,000 employees and 10,800 employers in the federal jurisdiction.  There has been no comment from the Government on the Report’s recommendation to extend the requirements to provincially-regulated private sector employers participating in the Federal Contractors Program.   The government has faced criticism from unions and from the NDP for delaying pay equity to 2018.

We will keep you posted.

Federal Pay Equity Legislation Promised

Canada Pension Plan enhancements: it’s happening

Yesterday the federal government tabled Bill C-26, which will implement changes to the Canada Pension Plan that were announced in June, 2016.  All provinces other than Quebec are now on board, in support of increased employer and employee contributions, and higher benefits.  The higher contribution rates will not apply until January 1, 2019.  They will be phased in gradually over seven years (from 2019 to 2025).

Commentators refer to these changes as “historic”.  It has been decades since significant changes were made to the CPP.  The reality is that the Canadians who should be happiest about these changes are teenagers, since it will be many years until significantly higher benefits are paid from the CPP.

We will be providing more details about the CPP changes in the coming weeks.


Canada Pension Plan enhancements: it’s happening

British Columbia Arbitrator Reinstates Firefighter Convicted of Possession of Stolen Boat

In a recent grievance decision, Re Prince George and Prince George Firefighters, Local 1372 (Williams), 2016 CarswellBC 2591, a labour arbitrator reinstated a firefighter whose employment was terminated after being found guilty of possession of a stolen boat and trailer.

The arbitrator concluded that in order to justify terminating a unionized employee, there must be a sufficient nexus between the employee’s misconduct away from work, and his employment duties.


The Grievor had been a firefighter for 11 years with a pristine work record. There were no concerns with his honesty or work.  In 2012, he purchased a boat and trailer for $9,500 from a fellow firefighter.  The boat, reportedly worth approximately $30,000, had been stolen.  The state of the Grievor’s knowledge when he purchased the boat was disputed.

The Grievor was arrested in 2013. The RCMP phoned the Grievor and asked to attend his property to investigate a tip that a stolen boat was located on his property.  Within minutes of the call, the Grievor hooked the boat and trailer up to his car and began towing it away from his property.  However, the Grievor’s property was under surveillance and he was arrested.

The Grievor lied about his acquisition of the boat and trailer in his initial statement to police, providing a story about how he purchased the boat, and three different purchase prices. He later admitted to the RCMP that he bought the boat from a fellow firefighter for much less, but he did not admit to knowing the boat was stolen.  However, he made some comments that he had doubts about the deal, and suggested he “had an inkling in the pit of his stomach” about it.

The employer investigated and the Grievor reluctantly admitted to the arrest. The Grievor was placed on leave, but the employer did not initially ask if he knew the boat was stolen.  When asked in a subsequent interview, the Grievor said it was a “grey area”.  He also advised the employer of his attempt to flee with the boat.  The employer allowed the Grievor to return to work with conditions, accepting that he was being forthright.

In the criminal proceedings, the court did not accept the Grievor’s evidence, and he was found to have known the boat was stolen. The trial was widely reported in the local media.

Upon learning of the verdict, the employer terminated the Grievor’s employment. The employer’s reasons, as stated at arbitration, included: the comments made by the judge regarding the non-acceptance of the Grievor’s evidence and his credibility, dishonesty and lack of judgment; the media reports and negative publicity; and concerns about the Grievor’s honesty during the employer’s investigation.

Arbitrator’s Reasons

The arbitrator found it difficult to reconcile evidence regarding the Grievor’s police statement and his evidence at trial and arbitration that he had no concern the boat was stolen. She noted that she had “grave doubts” as to his understanding of the underlying issue of his honesty.  Nevertheless, she proceeded to consider the question of whether termination was excessive in the circumstances.

To this end, relying on Millhaven Fibres Ltd. and OCAW, Local 9-670, Re, [1967] O.L.A.A. No. 4 (Ont Arb), the arbitrator noted that in determining whether the Grievor’s conduct away from the place of work was a justifiable reason for discharge, there was an onus on the employer to show that:

  1. The conduct of the Grievor harms the employer’s reputation or product;
  2. The Grievor’s behaviour renders the employee unable to perform his duties satisfactorily;
  3. The Grievor’s behaviour leads to refusal, reluctance or inability of the other employees to work with him;
  4. The Grievor has been guilty of a serious breach of the criminal code and thus rendering his conduct injurious to the general reputation of the employer and its employees;
  5. The conduct causes difficulty in the way the employer properly carries out its function of efficiently managing its works and efficiently directing its working force.

The arbitrator found there was no direct link between the misconduct and the Grievor’s duties. There was no suggestion he could not be trusted to do his firefighting duties. The arbitrator accepted that it was an isolated incident by an employee with a pristine work record, not likely to be repeated.  Moreover, he was not in a fiduciary position, and his duties did not expose him to the temptation of greed.

In short, the arbitrator concluded that there was an insufficient nexus between the Grievor’s misconduct and his duties to warrant termination. Accordingly, the arbitrator reinstated the Grievor, but declined to award wages, seniority or benefits from the date of termination to the date of reinstatement.

Take Away

Criminal convictions in and of themselves may not justify termination of an employee on the basis of dishonesty and lack of trust. Despite findings of misconduct in criminal proceedings, employers terminating for cause must establish that the misconduct actually relates in more than a general manner to the duties to be performed by the employee.


British Columbia Arbitrator Reinstates Firefighter Convicted of Possession of Stolen Boat

Ontario Minimum Wage Increase Now in Effect

Ontario employers are reminded that the general minimum wage in Ontario increased on October 1, 2016 to $11.40 per hour, up from $11.25 per hour.  The liquor server minimum wage also increased to $9.90 per hour and the student minimum wage is now $10.70 per hour. The Ontario minimum wage is indexed to Ontario’s Consumer Price Index so future increases will be published on or before April 1 and will come into effect on the following October 1.


Ontario Minimum Wage Increase Now in Effect

Increase to the Alberta Minimum Wage

Alberta employers are reminded that the general minimum wage in Alberta will be increased on October 1, 2016 to $12.20 per hour, up from $11.20 per hour. Additionally, the current liquor server rate will be eliminated effective October 1, 2016 and these employees will also now earn the general minimum wage. Employers are reminded to update their employment contracts and practices to ensure they reflect the new minimum wage.

The minimum wage will increase a further $1.40 to $13.60 per hour on October 1, 2017, and by $1.40 to $15.00 per hour on October 1, 2018.


Increase to the Alberta Minimum Wage

Getting Your Act Together – B.C. & Alberta Triennial Pension Assessments

In November 2008, the Alberta/British Columbia Joint Expert Panel on Pension Standards (JEPPS) released its report on pension standards in the two provinces. The report, Getting Our Acts Together, encouraged the two provincial governments to take a leadership position in pension reform and forge harmonized pension standards legislation which would provide a solid foundation for private sector pension plans and facilitate inter-provincial labour mobility.

The JEPPS’ vision of a fully harmonized joint-regulatory environment for Canada’s two westernmost provinces failed to materialize. The vision was left on the cutting-room floor, so to speak, as Alberta adopted its reformed pension standards legislation in 2014 and BC followed-suit with its own in 2015 – absent any joint regulator, joint tribunal or joint policy advisory council, as recommended in the JEPPS report.

That said, the new Acts themselves are principles-based, as opposed to rules-based, and there is a great deal of harmonization between the two, including the requirement for plan administrators to complete a triennial administrative assessment (TAA) for their pension plans.

TAA Timing

For private sector BC and Alberta pension plans with a calendar year-end, the first TAA must be undertaken with an effective date of December 31, 2016, and a written assessment completed by December 31, 2017. The exercise is to be repeated triennially thereafter.

Topics for Assessment

The TAA requirement is designed to force a plan administrator to do some soul-searching about how well it is administering the pension plan. At a minimum, TAA requires a review of the following:

  • Legislative Compliance
  • Plan Governance
  • Plan Funding
  • Plan Investments
  • Trustee Performance (if any)
  • Administrative Staff and Agent Performance

Administrators must retain a copy of the written assessment and make it available to the provincial pension regulator on request. There’s little doubt that regulators will undertake spot audits early in 2018 to confirm that the TAA requirements have been satisfied.

Where’s the stick?

The BC and Alberta pension legislation introduced a new enforcement tool to ‘encourage’ plan administrators to complete required tasks on time. The legislation empowers the Superintendent to order administrative penalties on corporations and administrators for contraventions of legislative provisions.  The maximum penalties range from $50K to $250K for corporations or administrators and from $10K to $50K for individuals, depending on which administrative provisions have been contravened. FICOM, the BC pension regulator, issued guidelines in June of this year suggesting that the higher penalties, which are discretionary in nature, will only be imposed where there has been significant delay in completing required legislated tasks.

Even without the administrative penalty provisions, plan administrators are required to comply with applicable legislation and regulatory requirements. Failure to do so, especially if the failure leads to significant losses to the pension fund, might be viewed in subsequent court proceedings as a breach of fiduciary duty.

Penalty and fiduciary implications aside, plan stakeholders and administrators should embrace the TAA as an opportunity to assess their administrative processes. While there’s never a good time to do soul-searching of this nature, if not on a triennial basis, when would be an appropriate time to ensure that employee pensions are being properly looked after?

Start now while there’s still time

Although plan administrators have until the end of 2017 to complete their written assessments, stakeholders need to recognize that a snapshot of administrative efficiency is to be taken at year-end, so there’s little time left in 2016 to ‘right-the-ship’. They need to determine if current administrative processes sufficiently address the enumerated list of assessment topics – for example, ensure that an updated Governance Policy, Funding Policy and Statement of Investment Policies and Procedures are in place – and, if not, take steps to address any shortfalls.  Failure to fill the ‘gaps’ now might lead to a failing grade when the assessment begins in earnest at year-end.

Getting Your Act Together – B.C. & Alberta Triennial Pension Assessments

Ontario Court Rules that ESA Temporary Layoff may still Result in Constructive Dismissal

An Ontario Court has ruled in Bevilacqua v Gracious Living Corporation, 2016 ONSC 4127 that even in cases where an employer has complied with the temporary layoff provisions of the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the “Act”), the layoff does not protect the employer from a successful claim in constructive dismissal by the employee at common law. In the case, a 15 year Facilities Manager was told by his employer that he was being temporarily laid off and that he would be recalled in three months. His company benefits were continued during the layoff period. While the layoff was done in accordance with the Act, the employee immediately took the position that he had been effectively terminated when he was placed on layoff. The Court agreed with the employee, and held that absent a provision in the employee’s employment contract allowing for a temporary layoff, a unilateral layoff constituted a constructive dismissal, regardless of whether it was done in compliance with the Act. The employee in the case, who was unemployed for 15 months after he was placed on layoff, was less successful with the remedy that the Court ordered. The employee was entitled to be paid for the three months he was on layoff, but the Court found that he had failed to mitigate his damages when he declined the employer’s offer to return to his old job after the layoff period was over.

Employers who wish to place employees on unpaid layoff should use this case as a reminder to update their employment agreements to provide for the right to unilaterally impose temporary layoffs in accordance with the Employment Standards Act, 2000 without further notice or compensation.

To view the decision, click here: http://www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2016/2016onsc4127/2016onsc4127.html.



Ontario Court Rules that ESA Temporary Layoff may still Result in Constructive Dismissal

BC Minimum Wage Increase Now in Effect

British Columbia employers are reminded that the general minimum wage in British Columbia increased on September 15, 2016 to $10.85 per hour, up from $10.45 per hour.  The liquor server minimum wage also increased to $9.60 per hour. Employers are reminded to update their employment contracts and practices to ensure they reflect the new minimum wage.


BC Minimum Wage Increase Now in Effect

Trend continues in alberta for higher general damages in human rights awards

General damages awarded by human rights tribunals are intended to compensate for discrimination and to act as a deterrent.

The Alberta Human Rights Act provides no statutory limit on how much general damages can be awarded.  However, in the past general damages awarded by the Human Rights Tribunal of Alberta (the “Tribunal”) generally ranged from $3,000 to a top end “cap” of $10,000.

This has changed since the Alberta Court of Appeal decision in 2013 of Walsh v. Mobil Oil Canada.  In Walsh, the court stressed that inadequate damage awards undermined the mandate of human rights legislation to recognize and affirm that all persons are equal, and to protect against and compensate for discrimination.  The court concluded that low damage awards could actually perpetuate discriminatory conduct.

Beginning in 2015 there has been a notable trend towards higher general damages awards, and the Tribunal has issued a number of decisions awarding general damages in the range of $10,000 to $15,000.

In Amir and Nazar v. Webber Academy Foundation the Tribunal found that it was not undue hardship to allow Muslim students to pray during the school day in a secular private school, and awarded general damages of $12,000 and $14,000 to each complainant.

Similarly, in Andric v. 585105 Alberta Ltd. o/a Spasation Salon & Day Spa, the Tribunal found that the employer had unjustifiably changed the complainant’s position and work location of 10 years after she was assaulted by a co-worker. The Tribunal concluded that the shared religious beliefs between the co-worker who assaulted the complainant and the employer were a factor in the respondent’s decision to transfer the complainant.  The complainant was awarded general damages of $15,000 and lost wages for a 24 month period.

More recently, on July 5, 2016 the Tribunal issued its decision in Thu Hien Pham v. Vu’s Enterprise Ltd. o/a La Prep, which continued this trend of higher general damage awards.  The complainant, Ms. Pham was awarded $15,000 in general damages by the Tribunal, who found that Ms. Pham had been harassed by her former employer.  On awarding $15,000 in general damages, the Tribunal chair noted that “it was important to ensure that damages are not so low as to trivialize the protection of human rights”, and “[w]hile I may have been inclined to consider a greater amount…this was the amount requested by the Director and the complainant”.

Accordingly, employers can expect to see larger awards in the future for both general damages and loss of income, and should not discount the risks and exposure of a human rights complaint.

These decisions of the Human Rights Tribunal of Alberta can be found here:

  • Amir and Nazar v. Webber Academy Foundation, 2015 AHRC 8 (currently under appeal): http://www.canlii.org/en/ab/abhrc/doc/2015/2015ahrc8/2015ahrc8.html?resultIndex=1
  • Andric v. 585105 Alberta Ltd. o/a Spasation Salon & Day Spa, 2015 AHRC 14: http://www.canlii.org/en/ab/abhrc/doc/2015/2015ahrc14/2015ahrc14.html?resultIndex=1
  • Pham v. Vu’s Enterprises Ltd., 2016 AHRC 12: http://www.canlii.org/en/ab/abhrc/doc/2016/2016ahrc12/2016ahrc12.html?resultIndex=1


Trend continues in alberta for higher general damages in human rights awards