Changes to the Canada Labour Code and What it Means for Employers and Employees

On September 1st, 2019, key amendments to the Canada Labour Code (the “Code”) came into force. These changes affect all employees working in a federally regulated sector. This includes the following areas:

  • Railways, road transport, canals, ferries, tunnels and bridges, and shipping services;
  • Telephone, telegraph and cable systems;
  • Radio and television (including cablevision);
  • Air transportation, including airports, aerodromes and airlines;
  • Banks;
  • Grain elevators, feed and seed mills;
  • Uranium mining and processing;
  • Businesses dealing with the protection and preservation of fisheries as a natural resource;
  • First Nation communities and activities; and
  • Crown Corporations.

The changes were implemented under Bill C-63 and Bill C-86. The highlights of the changes are as follows:

Flexible Work Arrangements

The amendments have inserted Flexible Work Arrangements into the Code. This change means that employees who have completed six months of continuous employment can request changes to the number of hours they work, their work schedule, the location of work, or other conditions prescribed by regulation.

The employee must make the request for a change to their work schedule to their employer in writing. The employer must provide a written response to the employee no later than 30 days after receiving the request.

Notice of Shift Changes/Work Schedule

If an employer wants to make a change to an employee’s work schedule, the employer must now give the employee 24-hour notice of a work shift change or addition. However, this does not apply if the change or addition to the shift is a situation the employer could not have foreseen and presents a serious threat to life, health, property, and other considerations.

The employer must provide the employee with their work schedule in writing at least 96 hours before the start of the employee’s first work period or shift under that schedule. The employee may refuse to work any work period or shift in their schedule that starts within 96 hours from the time the schedule is provided to them. This is subject to exceptions.

Unpaid Breaks

Every employee is entitled to an unpaid break of at least 30 minutes during every period of 5 hours of continuous work. If the employer needs the employee to work during the break period, the employee must be paid for the break.

Medical and Nursing Breaks

Subject to the regulations, every employee is entitled to and shall be granted any unpaid breaks that are necessary for medical reasons.

Every employee who is nursing is entitled to any unpaid breaks necessary for them to nurse or express breast milk.

Minimum Rest Period

Every employee is entitled to a rest period of at least eight consecutive hours between work periods or shifts.


An employee working overtime may be provided with one and one-half hours of paid time off work for each hour of overtime worked, in lieu of overtime pay. However, in order to be entitled to this, the employee must enter into a written agreement with the employer at the employee’s request providing for the specific dates during which the paid time off will be taken. The paid time off must be taken within a period of three months after the end of the pay period during which the overtime was worked. This three-month period of time can be extended by a collective agreement or by the written agreement entered into for the paid time off. However, this period of time cannot be extended by more than 12 months for an employee who is not subject to a collective agreement.

If the paid time off, or part of it, is not taken within the period of time agreed to by the parties in the written or collective agreement, the employer shall pay the employee’s wages within 30 days after the end of the period specified in the agreement for the overtime for which the time off was not taken. The rate of wages paid out shall be not less than one and one-half the employee’s regular rate of wages on the day they worked the overtime.

Refusal of Overtime Work

The amendments to the Code now allow employees to refuse to work overtime requested by their employer in order to fulfill family responsibilities related to the health or care of any family member or the education of any family member under 18 years of age. The overtime can be refused only if the employee has taken reasonable steps to carry out the family responsibility by other means so they can work the overtime and those means were not enough to carry out the responsibility. An employer cannot engage in reprisal or punishment of the employee for the employee’s refusal to work overtime.

However, there are exceptions to the employee’s right to refuse to work the overtime. An employee is not to refuse if the overtime is necessary to deal with a situation the employer could not have reasonably foreseen that presents an imminent or serious threat to the life, health or safety of any person, a threat of damage to or loss of property, or a threat of serious interference with the ordinary working of the employer’s industrial establishment.

Vacation Pay

The amendments to the Code have resulted in increased vacation pay and time entitlements to employees:

  • 2 weeks vacation and 4% vacation pay after one year of employment.
  • 3 weeks vacation and 6% vacation pay after five years of employment.
  • 4 weeks vacation and 8% vacation pay after ten years employment.

Holiday Pay

The amendments have removed the requirement that employees must have worked for an employer for thirty days before they are entitled to general holiday pay.

Minimum Service Requirements for Certain Leaves Removed

The previous requirements that an employee must complete six consecutive months of continuous employment in order to be entitled to Maternity/Parental Leave, Leave Related to Critical Illness, and Leave Related to Death or Disappearance of a child have all been removed.

Medical Leave

This section replaces the former “Sick Leave” section under the Code. Medical leave provides employees with time off due to personal illness or injury, organ donation, or medical appointments. The amendments have removed the requirement that employees must complete three consecutive months of employment in order to be entitled to medical leave.

Leave of Absence for Members of the Reserve Force

The continuous service requirement for this leave has been reduced from six to three consecutive months of continuous employment with an employer. The eligibility for this leave has been expanded to include Canadian Armed Forces military skills training. The leave of absence taken by the employee cannot total more than an aggregate of 24 months in any 60-month period.

Personal Leave

Employees are now entitled to the new Personal Leave, which entitles every employee to a leave of absence of up to five days, three of which will be paid if the employee has completed three months of continuous employment with their employer. Personal leave can be taken for the following circumstances:

  • treating an illness or injury
  • carrying out responsibilities related to the health care of family members or the education of family members under 18 years of age
  • Addressing any urgent matter concerning themselves or their family members
  • Attending a citizenship ceremony under the Citizenship Act; and
  • Any other reason prescribed by regulation

Leave for Victims of Family Violence

This leave is another new addition to the Code where an employee who is a victim of family violence or who is the parent of a child who is a victim of family violence is now entitled to a leave of absence of up to ten days per year. If the employee has completed three consecutive months of continuous employment with their employer, five of these days will be paid.

Leave for Traditional Aboriginal Practices

The amendments have added this leave for Aboriginal employees who have completed three consecutive months of employment with an employer. The leave of absence provides up to five unpaid days per year in order to engage in traditional Aboriginal practices like hunting, fishing, and harvesting. The Code defines Aboriginal as Indian, Inuit or Métis.

Leave for Court or Jury Duty

This is a newly implemented leave that entitles every employee to a leave of absence from work to attend court to act as a witness, act as a juror, or participate in a jury selection process.

Extension of Bereavement Leave

The amendments have extended the amount of time employees are granted bereavement leave for the death of an immediate family member from three to five days. Three of these five days are paid. The leave may be taken anytime between the date the death occurs and six weeks after the latest of days on which any funeral, burial, or memorial service for the deceased immediate family member has been held.

If you have any questions about the recent changes to the Canada Labour Code, please contact our office.

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