The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world as we know it and has significantly disrupted the economy in its wake. It has been a particularly difficult year for Albertans faced with increasing job uncertainty, as thousands of businesses were forced to reduce staff or close their doors entirely. In response to COVID-19, the Alberta government made temporary changes to the province’s employment laws in order to support employees and employers during this difficult time.
In this article, we’ll talk about these temporary changes to Employment laws, your rights as an employee, and connect you with some resources for additional support. There has been a lot of uncertainty in the world this past year, but one thing is for certain— we’re here for you.
CHANGES TO ALBERTA’S EMPLOYMENT LAWS DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
As of April 6, 2020, the Alberta Government announced temporary changes to the Employment Standards Code in order to better support Albertans through the COVID-19 crisis. To learn more about these changes, keep on reading.
Changes to Alberta’s Employee Leave of Absence during COVID-19
Employees who require a leave of absence to care for children affected by school or daycare closures— or those caring for ill or self-isolated family members due to COVID-19— are legally entitled to unpaid job-protected leave.
They are also…
- Eligible for leave even if they have been employed for less than 90 days
- Not required to provide a medical note
- Allowed flexibility for the duration of the leave of absence
Note: The standard rules remain in effect for other non-pandemic-related circumstances where employees require a leave of absence.
Changes to Alberta’s Notice Requirements during COVID-19
The government of Alberta has temporarily revised the following rules for notice in the workplace:
- 24 hours’ written notice of a shift change is no longer required
- 2 weeks’ notice to change work schedules is no longer required
- Employers are no longer required to provide group termination notice to employees when 50 or more employees are being terminated
Note: The notice requirements for individual termination have not changed. We talk more in-depth about individual termination and laws for notice here.
Changes to Alberta’s Temporary Layoff duration during COVID-19
The government of Alberta has amended the timeline for temporary layoffs:
- The duration of temporary layoffs has been increased from 60 days to 180 days for any COVID-19 related temporary layoffs that occurred on or after March 17, 2020.
Know Your Rights
Although the province has implemented temporary changes to Employment laws in response to COVID-19, employers still have many of the same basic obligations to their employees. In Alberta, employers are still obligated to pay their employees, provide adequate notice for pay cuts, ensure safety in the workplace, and abide by the rules of the Employment Standards Code. It’s also important to note that being “laid off” from work and being fired or terminated are two very different things from a legal standpoint. All employees in Alberta are presently entitled to the following:
- Employers must pay employees at least once per month – An employer cannot require an employee to work without pay (or less than the minimum wage requirement) and they must provide pay statements for each pay period.
- Notice for temporary layoffs– If an employer fails to provide proper notice or temporary layoffs are not part of the employment contract, the layoff may be deemed by the courts as a termination and the employer could be liable for termination pay. Prior to COVID-19 the maximum duration of a temporary layoff was 60 days but, as mentioned earlier, that number has been increased to 120 days as of March 17, 2020.
- Advance notice is required for pay cuts– An employer must provide reasonable notice for pay reduction. If the pay cut is too drastic, the employee may be able to make a claim for constructive dismissal and the employer may be required to provide termination pay, especially if the employee has not agreed to the pay reduction.
- All employees are entitled to 14-day quarantine leave– Employees are eligible for job-protected COVID-19 quarantine leave, regardless of their length of employment. The employee can take this leave more than once, and even consecutively if needed. An employer is not required to pay an employee during quarantine leave unless the employee is entitled to paid sick leave in the employment agreement. An employee may also request to use vacation pay or banked overtime during this period.
- Termination rules remain the same– Alberta’s Employment Standards Code has minimum requirements for notice or pay in lieu of notice when terminating an employee without cause. The bare minimum requirements are based on the length of time the employee has worked for the employer, but employees are often entitled to more than the minimums through common law. An employer cannot terminate or lay off an employee while they are on personal and family responsibility leave.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I HAVE BEEN LAID OFF?
The first thing you should do is clarify with your employer if the layoff is permanent or temporary.
If you were permanently laid off…
- DO NOT feel pressured to sign anything right away or accept a severance offer from your former employer until you have spoken to a lawyer about your rights.
- DO tell your employer that you would like to take some time to review the document and have it looked over by a lawyer before you sign.
If you were temporarily laid off…
- There are very specific rules that an employer must abide by for temporary layoffs in Alberta. It’s a good idea to consult an employment lawyer to find out what a temporary layoff means in light of COVID-19, and what your rights are.
At Litco Law, it won’t cost you anything to speak to a Calgary Employment Law lawyer and find out exactly what your rights are. Give us a call, send us a message in the chat, or fill out our contact form and we’ll reach out to you.
RETURNING TO WORK AFTER COVID-19 LAYOFFS
If you have been temporarily laid off there is an expectation that you would be returning to a job that is comparable to the role you had before you were laid off. This applies to the position or duties you performed as well as your pay. If your employer has made significant changes to your pay or position, you should consult a Calgary Employment Law lawyer as soon as possible.
EMPLOYMENT CONTRACT AND SEVERANCE PACKAGE REVIEW
Some employment contracts do not legally permit employers to temporarily lay off their employees so, instead, employers will terminate employees on the basis of “shortage of work” and issue a Record of Employment to employees so they can collect Employment Insurance benefits. In this case, the employer is still legally expected to provide reasonable notice of termination in the event of a termination without just cause. How much notice is “reasonable” under the common law depends on various factors like the employee’s length of employment, position at the company, age, and other relevant factors such as the number of job opportunities in their field of work.
Fired? Terminated? Let go? Contact a Calgary Employment Law lawyer who will review your employment contract, severance package offer, and ensure your former employer is meeting their obligations to you under the law.
HEALTH AND SAFETY IN THE WORKPLACE
In accordance with the Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers must take all possible measures to create a safe workplace and reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 in the workplace. In addition to following the safety protocols and guidelines mandated by provincial and federal public health agencies (e.g. practicing social distancing in the workplace, restricting employee gatherings, temperature checks, regular sanitizing, etc.), the employer should provide work from home alternatives for roles that can be done remotely (e.g. providing laptops/computers for employees to work from home, remote network access for employees, scheduling meetings virtually, etc.). COVID-19 RISK AND HUMAN RIGHTS
In accordance with the Alberta Human Rights Act, employers must do everything in their power to accommodate employees who have been advised by their medical doctor not to go to work during the COVID-19 pandemic due to compromised health or being in an at-risk category. If an employee can perform their work duties from home, the employer must support and assist that person to work from home (i.e. provide a laptop, virtual access, etc.). If their duties require that person to go into the workplace, an employer cannot fire that person for not coming into work. Whether or not an employee will be paid during this period will depend on the employment contract. If your employer is forcing you to go into work against the advice of your medical doctor, or you have been fired for being medically unable to go into work during the pandemic due to being at-risk, contact a Calgary Employment Law lawyer as soon as possible.
DISCRIMINATION AGAINST FAMILY MEMBERS OF FRONT-LINE HEALTH WORKERS
If you have experienced discrimination in the workplace because you are in close contact with a family member who is a health care worker and perceived to be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19, this may be a breach of the Human Rights Act. Contact us to speak to a Calgary Employment Law lawyer and find out exactly what your rights are.
We’ll take care of the legal work, while you focus on getting back to work.
We understand that the last thing you want to worry about— especially if you have recently lost your job— is receiving a huge bill for a just few minutes of legal advice. At Litco Law, it won’t cost you anything to speak to a Calgary Employment lawyer. We believe in being generous with our time and our knowledge. Consultations are always free, and you’ll never feel any pressure or obligation or pressure to hire us. In fact, we’ll always help you find a solution— even we aren’t it. Our lawyers will even meet with you virtually so that you can receive legal support from the comfort and safety of your home, if you prefer. And if you do choose us to file an Employment claim, we don’t get paid until you get paid.
Have questions about COVID-19 and employment law? Since 1976, Litco Law has represented thousands of people in Calgary, Edmonton, and across Alberta who have been wrongfully terminated, constructively dismissed, terminated without cause, and more. Give us a call, send us a message in the chat, or fill out our contact form online and we’ll reach out to you. You can always count on us to get back to you within 24 hours, or by the next business day on weekends.
At Litco Law we remain ready, able, and prepared to serve you during this time. We’re in this together and, as a community, we are flexible and resilient. We continue to be amazed by and grateful for the level of commitment and positive spirit that we’ve seen amongst neighbours, coworkers, friends, and the community during this difficult time. In keeping with this, we want to share some resources to help support our community:
- The City of Calgary offers supports and resources for individuals, businesses, recovery funding, and volunteer opportunities to help Calgarians during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Enough for All connects Calgarians with helpful financial resources available in response to COVID-19.
- Alberta Health Services’ “Help in Tough Times” page has a ton of great resources for mental health.
- Subscribe to Text4Hope for daily messages of advice and encouragement. Text COVID19HOPE to 393939.