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30 August 20194 minute read

“Times they are a-changin’” for federally regulated workplaces: significant amendments to Canada Labour ‎Code and accessibility legislation coming into effect

The Federal government’s commitment to the “modernization” of employment standards applicable to federally regulated workplaces continues with the coming into force of more Canada Labour Code amendments and federal accessibility legislation. Federally regulated employers should take note.

Canada Labour Code

A large number of the sweeping, employee-centric changes to the Canada Labour Code enacted in late 2018 will come into effect on September 1, 2019, including amendments with respect to:

(a) medical certificates and health care practitioners;

(b) the right to refuse work or to a leave of absence for certain pregnant employees;

(c) breaks and rest periods, including breaks for medical reasons or for nursing mothers;

(d) scheduling and an employee’s right to refuse unscheduled work;

(e) vacation pay;

(f) holiday pay;

(g) continuation of employment in the event of the transfer of a business or retendering of a contract;

(h) leave provisions respecting maternity and parental leave, leave (family illness leave), leave relating to the death and disappearance of a child, jury duty and court leave, medical leave, and reservists leave; and

(i) certain transition provisions with respect to the applicability of the amendments.

These amendments are in addition to those amendments to the Code already in force, including the amendments with respect to unjust dismissal complaints under section 240 of the Code and complaints under section 251.1, which recently came into force on July 29, 2019. The effective date for other significant changes, including changes to the amount of notice employees are entitled to in the event of a without cause termination of employment, has not yet been determined. 

Accessible Canada Act

In keeping the federal governments’ forward momentum, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada received royal assent on June 21, 2019 and came into force on July 11, 2019. Similar to existing Ontario and Manitoba legislation, the purpose of the Act is to remove barriers for persons with disabilities to ensure the full and equal participation of all persons in Canadian society by January 1, 2040. The Act, although important for employers, goes well-beyond employment and also regulates the identification, removal and prevention of barriers, including with respect to the built environment, information and communication technologies, and the procurement, design and delivery of goods, services, programs and facilities.

Predicated on seven broad principles, the Act requires regulated entities to create accessibility plans, implement ways to receive and respond to feedback from employees and customers, and to provide progress reports regarding their efforts under the legislation. The Act contains a number of mechanisms for its enforcement, including inspections, compliance audits, warnings and the publication of the names of organizations or individuals who have contravened the legislation, along with a description of the violation and the amount of any associated penalty.

Of particular note to employers, individuals who have suffered physical or psychological harm or economic loss as a result of, or who have otherwise been adversely affected by, a contravention of the Act may seek an order that an offending entity pay compensation to a complainant for any or all of the wages the complainant was deprived of as a result of the contravention, in addition to payment of related expenses and up to $20,000 for pain and suffering. The overlaps with human rights legislation are obvious: however, according to the federal government, the Act is intended to support the objectives of, and does not replace, the Canada Human Rights Act. Appeals from decisions of the Accessibility Commissioner may be made to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

The federal government’s News Release with respect to the Act may be accessed here.

Looking forward

While the “modernization” of the Code and introduction of legislation such as the Act already represent a strong shift in the parameters applicable to federally regulated workplaces, it is important to recognize that the times, they continue to change. The federal government has made clear that its modernization work is not yet complete, and a review of federal minimum wage, protections for non-standard workers, the “right to disconnect”, a collective voice for non-union workers and the portability of benefits, are all underway. In the words of Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan, federally regulated employers surely had “better start swimmin’”.