Canada Labour Code changes provide ‘much-needed updates’

Recent amendments to the Canada Labour Code (CLC) offer guidance to employers and needed benefits and protections for workers, says Toronto employment lawyer Ellen Low.

Low, principal of Ellen Low & Co., says the federal government announced several changes to the CLC in the past year, many to take effect throughout 2024. Under the new regulations, employers must:

  • Meet new standards for hours of work, which began on Jan. 4.
  • Provide employees with increased individual notice of termination entitlements effective Feb. 1.
  • Prepare and publish accessibility plans and progress reports starting June 1.
  • Develop a pay equity plan by Sept. 3.

“There are some much-needed updates but the most exciting for me is the change to the notice period,” Low tells “This was proposed more than five years ago, so it has been a long time coming. We all know that the machinations of government legislation move slowly. However, I am genuinely pleased to see this amendment.” 

New rules for federally regulated workplaces

The new rules affect only about six per cent of Canadian employees in federally regulated workplaces such as banks, airports and interprovincial/international transportation, she says. 

“Workplace rights and obligations depend on how the employer is regulated,” Low explains. “We have two overlapping levels of government within Canada, federal and provincial. The majority of employers in Canada are governed by the regulations of each province or territory. In Ontario that would be the Employment Standards Act (ESA).”

The increase in the minimum notice of termination period means employers must provide a graduated notice of termination, or pay in lieu of notice, based on the length of continuous employment. That starts at three weeks for an employee with three years of service.

The notice period increases by one week of every year of employment and caps out at eight weeks for eight years or more of service. There is a minimum notice period of two weeks for those working continuously for three months to three years.

No notice period is required in certain circumstances, such as if the employee is terminated for cause.

Employers are also required to provide a written statement of benefits to terminated employees that includes wages, vacation benefits, severance pay and any benefits.

While the notice of termination may have changed for federally regulated workers, severance pay hasn’t, Low notes. Under the Canada Labour Code, employees are entitled to two days’ pay for every year of service. Under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act, a worker receives one week’s pay for every year worked to a maximum of 26 weeks.

Amendments could spark debate

Low says she questions whether the amended CLC notice period will “shine a light” on the severance imbalance and spark debate on the need to bring them in line.

“I do query if the changes to the provision will exacerbate a concern about inequality and lead to discussions concerning the difference between federally and provincially regulated severance pay,” she says. “That could very well be the next thing on the horizon. 

“The original suggestion to update the CLC notice periods started about five years ago,” Low adds. “If there is an appetite to increase severance pay to bring it up to provincial levels, I hope it will not require another five years of legislative discussion to align federal requirements to provincial standards.”

At the beginning of this year, the federal government also introduced new regulations dealing with hours of work. Under the CLC, employers must provide workers with:

  • a minimum of 96 hours of advance written notice of their work schedules;
  • an unpaid break of at least 30 minutes during every period of five consecutive hours of work;
  • advance written notice of at least 24 hours for shift changes or additions; and
  • a rest period of eight consecutive hours between work periods or shifts.

“This is meant to reflect the realities of employers who have continuous operations or non-traditional scheduling practices while giving employees more advance notice to changes in their work schedule,” says Low. “This targets those with unusual work schedules to address the work-life balance. It allows employees to plan their lives a little bit better.”

Some workers received little advance notice

She says in the past, some employees received little advance notice of their work schedule and may have even been “on call.”

“Your employer could just contact you to say, ‘We are not busy so we don’t need you to come in today.’ You would have structured your entire day anticipating work, expecting to earn those wages only to be called off literally at any time, up to and including the minute you got there,” Low says. “This new regulation will allow employees to be better able to manage their expectations and also their income.”

She says there are two upcoming deadlines that employers must also be aware of. On June 1, companies with 10 to 99 employees need to have consulted with those with disabilities and created an accessibility plan that falls in line with the Accessible Canada Act.

The Act was introduced in July 2019 in an effort to make Canada barrier-free by Jan. 1, 2040. This involves identifying, removing and preventing barriers in federal jurisdictions in the following areas:

  • employment;
  • buildings and public spaces;
  • information and communication technologies;
  • communication, other than information and communication technologies;
  • the procurement of goods, services and facilities;
  • the design and delivery of programs and services; and
  • transportation.

Companies with more than 100 workers had until June 1, 2023, to submit and post their plans.

Pay equity plan regulations

Also ahead, Low says organizations with 10 or more employees will have until Sept. 3 to prepare and post a pay equity plan as required under the Pay Equity Act.

“The idea is to post these plans so that the employer is having to do a proactive think about equity in the workplace and whether or not people are receiving equal pay for work of equal value, regardless of whether it is a ‘predominantly male’ or ‘predominantly female’ job,” she explains. 

As 2023 came to a close, the Canadian government also mandated that all federally regulated employers including federal public service departments, Crown corporations, banks, airports and train yards must provide free menstrual products in all employee washrooms. 

“We have to look at menstrual products as a necessity item, just like toilet paper,” Rachel Ettinger, who started a petition calling for the regulation, told CBC News. “You can’t provide a truly inclusive space for your employees without providing menstrual products.”

Low says it is “an interesting initiative” that was long overdue.

‘Fair amount of discussion’

“There was a fair amount of discussion with respect to the requirement to supply menstrual products, and in which washrooms those need to be included,” she says. “It seemed to be very divisive for reasons I didn’t totally understand.

“The idea that the office has these products that are accessible and it is a requirement not only reduces stigma with respect to menstruation but also helps people who may have forgotten to bring their own.”

Because employment laws are constantly evolving, it is not uncommon for the average person to be unclear about their rights and obligations, especially when it comes to the different labour codes, Low says.

“Regulations under the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Standards Act may seem similar so it makes sense to get advice,” she says. “I do a fair amount of federal work. If you have an issue as a federally regulated employee, you should consult somebody who has experience with the CLC because the code and the system are so different.”

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