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.