Alberta Employment Standards: Everything Your Small Business Needs to Know

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, accounting, or tax advice. The information contained herein is subject to change and may vary from time to time in your region. For specific advice applicable to your business, please contact a professional.

Owning a business can be a rewarding experience. As a small business owner or employer in Alberta, it’s important that you’re aware of, and learn, the various laws that apply to you and your business if you hire employees.

What Are the Standards of Employment in Alberta?

Several rules apply concerning the Employment Standards Regulation (ESR), Employment Standards Code(ESC) and Labour Standards Code (LSC) in Alberta. As an employer, it is your duty to know and apply these rules in your workplace:

  • Recognition of general holidays in Alberta
  • Modification of schedules through averaging agreements
  • How to appropriately withhold deductions
  • Hours of work, overtime and appropriate minimum wages
  • Leaves of absence protection for certain personal matters
  • Notice, termination and termination payments
  • Vacations and accrued vacation payments
  • Employment of youth

As of 2019, several aspects of the ESR, ESC and LSC have changed:

  • ESR: Reduced minimum wages for students ($13.00 youth minimum average daily wage, for students working under 28 hours per week.)
  • ESC: Changes regarding holiday pay (employers no longer have to include vacation pay in the average daily wage calculation, instead opting for a new method of calculation.)
  • ESC: Changes in the banking of overtime pay.

As of July 2019, Bill 2 received Royal Assent, meaning changes to the LSC including:

  • Restoration of secret ballots for union certification votes
  • Returning union employee certification evidence provisions to 90 days instead of six months
  • Allowing the Labour Relations Board to decide if arbitration is a better method for certain accommodations investigations

For more detailed information, you can visit the Alberta Government website’s Employment Standards resources.

Get Started with Square Team Management.

Empower your team and protect your business.

COVID-19 Changes to the Alberta Employment Standards Code

As of April 2020, there were several temporary measures put in place relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, though additional changes may be actioned as governments learn more of the situation, or as the threat diminishes. Employers need to be aware of the following:

  • Changes to Employee Leave, including unpaid job-protected leave, relating to childcare, or caring for ill family members.
  • Updates to Notice Requirements. Such as employers not needing to provide 24 hours’ written notice for shift changes, or 2 weeks’ notice to change work schedules.
  • Changes to temporary layoffs, increasing the lay-off period.

It’s vital to keep up to date with the developing Employment Standards Code relating to COVID-19, especially as a small business with a smaller workforce.

To learn more information about how COVID-19 is affecting Employment Standards, start with the Alberta government website.

What Are Your Rights and Obligations as an Employer in Alberta?

Alberta’s Human Rights Act
(AHR) provides protection from discrimination for employees based on grounds such as:

  • Race
  • Colour
  • Religion
  • Physical gender
  • Gender identification
  • Expression of gender
  • Age
  • Physical or mental disabilities
  • Marital or relationship status
  • Sexual orientation

Both employers and employees have rights and responsibilities within the working relationship. For instance, employers must provide an all-inclusive workplace that respects individual dignity. Employees are expected to contribute to this atmosphere with an understanding of their own rights and responsibilities. But to start, what are your rights as an employer?

Employer Rights

With respect to the AHR, you can run your small business as you desire, but you must comply with human rights and employment laws, including online businesses. So, what are your responsibilities as an employer?

Employer Obligations

To remain compliant with various laws and regulations regarding the hiring and retention of employees, you must:

  • Ensure an atmosphere of no discrimination.
  • Remove any barriers to creating an all-inclusive workplace.
  • Consider all accommodation requests based on protected grounds like those mentioned above.

The AHR works to ensure that there is no discrimination at any point of employment, from the recruiting process to promotion, assignment and termination.

Together with your employees, you must take adequate steps toward accommodation for any employees requesting such, based on protected grounds — but only up to the point of undue hardship. In other words, providing accommodations for a request would mean acute disruption to your business or would cost the company more than that employee would generate for the business. Each accommodation request is an island — not all similar requests can be handled in the same manner in every situation. Accommodations are looked into on a case-by-case basis, and if you or your employee is unsure of the ultimate outcome, either of you may reach out to the Alberta Human Rights Commission. Any infringement that is not found in your favour could become a liability for your company.

What Rights Do Your Employees Have in Alberta?

Your Alberta employees also have rights and responsibilities in the working relationship. Some of your employees’ rights include:

  • Payment for a minimum of three hours, even when sent home early
  • Refusal of work they deem unsafe
  • Freedom from pay cheque deductions for items broken during the course of the workday or cash register shortages
  • Vacation time after one year of employment regardless of full- or part-time status — but this only applies to the majority of positions; certain industries and positions do not qualify, such as farm work
  • Provision of safety equipment and an understanding of how to use it
  • Freedom from workplace discrimination
  • Having needs related to protected grounds properly accommodated
  • Minimum wages
  • Overtime pay for any shifts over eight hours or weeks over 44 hours — this doesn’t apply to some industries or positions, such as certain sales positions, farm and ranch work, management or supervisory positions, and teachers and counselors at educational camps
  • Protection from termination for accommodation requests or for filing a complaint in regard to any applicable laws on protected grounds
    Your employees are also entitled to holiday pay. These are basic rules that apply to most employees, even in small or independent businesses, in Alberta.

Rules Regarding Holiday Pay

Your employees are entitled to holiday pay if they’ve worked for you at least 30 working days in the year prior to said holiday. For the employee to receive the holiday pay, the holiday must fall on a day they would normally work, or they must have worked a shift on a holiday that is not a day they would normally be scheduled.

If the holiday happens to fall on the employee’s normal schedule and they work a shift, they are entitled to 1.5 times the rate of their normal pay. If you are closed or the employee doesn’t work on that holiday, they are still entitled to their normal wage at the normal rate of time they would normally work on that day if it were not a holiday.

If the holiday is not on a day the employee would normally work, you do not have to pay holiday pay. But, if you call in that employee to cover a shift, for instance, they are entitled to 1.5 times their normal rate of pay for all hours worked on that holiday.

Do your employees have obligations?

It might appear that employees have many more rights than employers, but employees also have their fair share of responsibilities when it comes to their employment. For instance, employees are obligated to:

  • Perform the functions of their position
  • Comply with all company rules and policies, as well as any laws, regulations or other legislation
  • Inform their immediate supervisor of any discrimination
  • Treat your clients and their co-workers with dignity
  • Ensure they’re not participating in any conduct that could be considered discriminatory
  • Inform you of any accommodation requests

It’s crucial that you’re aware of your rights and responsibilities as an employer in Alberta. Understanding your role in the workplace ensures a welcoming atmosphere for all who enter your doors. Information is key, and resources are available to help small businesses in understanding Employment Standards. It’s especially important to start understanding your rights as an employer in relation to COVID-19, and for the future. If you were forced to close during the pandemic, here’s some ways to get back to business.

Looking for ways to save on labour costs? Start with Square’s Team Management integration and see how it can help. It’s just one of many ways we could be of benefit to you.