Alberta recently passed Bill 17, the Labour Statutes Amendment Act, which will amend the province’s Employment Standards Code and Labour Relations Code by adding new obligations and rights impacting employers and employees. Specifically, the changes will affect allowances for employee bereavement leave for the loss of a child, as well as time off allowed for reservists. Further, the changes will also impact collective bargaining for staff and students at Alberta post-secondary educational institutions. 

Below, we will overview the key changes under this new legislation and outline how they will impact Alberta employees and employers.

Time off Work for Annual Reservist Training

Reservists, or members of Canada’s Reserve Force, are considered to be part-time military or military-adjacent service members who commonly serve on evenings or weekends in one of the four branches of the Reserve Force:

  • Primary Reserve
  • Canadian Rangers
  • Cadet Administration & Training Services
  • Supplementary Reserve

Most reservists maintain full-time civilian employment, and many are required to take time away from their regular employment each year for training purposes. Previously, this unpaid time off was limited to 20 days per year, however, under the Labour Statutes Amendment Act, the time limit is removed, allowing employees unlimited unpaid time away for mandated reservist training. This change is intended to make it easier for reservists to fulfill their training obligations without having to dip into other leaves, such as paid vacation time. Notably, an employee must have been with their employer for at least 12 consecutive weeks before this entitlement takes effect. This amendment came into force as of the date the Bill received royal assent, May 31, 2022.

Bereavement Leave for Pregnancy Loss

Another significant change under the new legislation is the extension of unpaid bereavement leave to employees who have experienced a pregnancy loss due to miscarriage, stillbirth, or termination. Prior to the passing of Bill 17, would-be parents did not have an automatic entitlement to bereavement leave to grieve the loss of a pregnancy and would only be granted the leave if such a benefit was offered by their specific employer. Now, those who have experienced such a loss will be entitled to three days of unpaid leave if they request it. 

Bereavement leave will now apply to employees in the following circumstances:

  • Employees who have experienced the death of a family member;
  • Employees whose pregnancy ends with any result other than a live birth;
  • Employees whose spouse or common-law partner’s pregnancy ends with any result other than a live birth; and
  • Employees who would have been a parent of a child born from the pregnancy of another person (such as a surrogate) if that pregnancy ends with any result other than a live birth.

The language of this section was amended significantly, between the original proposal and when it received royal assent. Originally, the leave was extended to those employees who had experienced a “miscarriage or stillbirth” themselves, via their spouse or partner, or another person such as a surrogate. However, advocates for people who have experienced pregnancy loss met with the Bill’s sponsors to request a number of changes to the language. 

The main recommendation was that the wording be changed to “pregnancy that ends in a result other than a live birth”, rather than limiting it to stillbirths or miscarriages. This way, the leave would be open to those who had experienced the loss due to other reasons, such as termination for medical reasons, or abortion. Some have been critical that the language was not changed to explicitly include the word “abortion”. In response, the Bill’s sponsor, Labour Minister Kaycee Madu, said it was meant to be as inclusive as possible so that any employee “who needs this bereavement leave…would not have to be denied it or face any difficulty or explain anything to any employer”.  

In order to qualify for unpaid bereavement leave, an employee must have been employed with the same employer for at least 90 days and must provide their employer with as much notice “as is reasonable and practicable in the circumstances”. This amendment came into force as of the date the Bill received royal assent, May 31, 2022. 

Maintaining the Status Quo in Collective Bargaining at Post-Secondary Educational Institutes

The last amendment provided under the legislation is aimed specifically at collective bargaining negotiations for the academic staff, graduate students, and post-doctoral fellows at Alberta’s educational institutions. Under the Labour Relations Code, each of these groups is represented by their respective association in collective bargaining negotiations. The amendments under the new legislation will allow these associations to continue to represent their respective members in these negotiations indefinitely. This amendment will come into force as of July 1, 2022. 

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