The federal government recently implemented a number of changes to the Canada Labour Code which largely favours federal employees in certain industries such as banks, fisheries, telecommunications, and interprovincial transportation companies.

If you work for a federally regulated industry, you should expect to see a number of changes to your entitlements under the Code. Here are some of the key developments you should be aware of:

Flexible Working Arrangements

After six months of employment, you can ask your employer to reconsider your work schedule, location, and the terms and conditions of employment. This should allow you to modify your work schedule to accommodate your family and caregiving needs. Your employer may be prevented from refusing your request unless certain criteria under the legislation (or its regulations) are met.

Breaks, Resting Periods, and Medical Leave

The amendments permit employees to take breaks throughout the day for medical reasons whenever they need it. Parents who are currently nursing will be permitted to take breaks for the purposes of nursing as well. However, the amendments do not require your employer to pay you during these breaks.

Two new sections were added to the Code which provide that all employees must receive a 30-minute break for every five consecutive hours they work and an eight-hour rest period between shifts. There is no requirement that your employer compensate you for either of these rest periods.

You are now entitled immediately to as many as 17 weeks of medical leave. Previously, employees must have worked for three consecutive months before requesting this leave.

Notice of Shifts and Shift Changes

Employees are now entitled to 96-hours of written notice of upcoming shifts. Where your employer does not give you this minimum amount of notice, you may refuse to work. Employers must also provide 24-hours written notice before changing your schedule. Previously, employees did not have the benefit of any notice periods.

The Exception to the Rest Periods and Notice Requirements

While the amendments to the Code provide new entitlements to employees, it also waives the rest periods, breaks, and notice for shifts changes where there is an emergency of some sort. Where safety, property, or important interests to the company are at risk, your employer will still be able to ask that you work despite the above entitlements.

Vacation Pay and Periods

The Code always provided details on the minimum vacation periods and pay that employees are entitled to. The amendments build upon these entitlements. Your entitlements to vacation pay and the length of your vacation period will depend on your seniority with your employer. The Code now provides that:

  • if you were employed for less than one year, you are entitled to no vacation pay and no vacation period;
  • if you were employed for more than one year, you are entitled to 4% vacation pay and a vacation period of two weeks;
  • if you were employed for more than five years, you are entitled to 6% vacation pay and three weeks of vacation; and
  • if you were employed for more than 10 years, you are entitled to 8% vacation pay and four weeks of vacation.

Personal Leave

Employees are now entitled take off up to five days annually for illnesses, familial responsibilities and to attend their own citizenship ceremony among many other reasons. The Code allows the list of reasons to grow over time by allowing governments to create regulations expanding the list. Once you have been employed for three months, three of the five days off must be paid. Your employer is however, entitled to ask you for documentation that shows why the time off was necessary.

We can expect more changes to the Code in the near future which are likely to increase the rights of employees. This stands in stark contrast to recent changes made by Ontario’s Provincial government to the Employment Standards Act which have reduced a number of the rights of employees. These changes mean that employees in the same province may experience substantially different entitlements depending on the industry that they work in.

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