On 20 March 2018, Quebec’s labor minister, Dominique Vien, introduced a bill that would broaden protections for Quebec workers in the areas of working hours, leave, wages, harassment and discrimination. Bill 176 – “An Act to amend the Act respecting labour standards and other legislative provisions mainly to facilitate family-work balance” (the “bill”) – should be voted on by 1 October 2018 and is expected to enter into force without major amendments on 1 January 2019.
The bill proposed the following changes for all employees working in Quebec province:
Working hours and overtime
The bill allows employers to stagger employees’ working hours over a period of four weeks, rather than within a single work week, without having to obtain the authorization of the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et la sécurité du travail (CNESST), subject to written agreement between the employee and the employer that respects the mandatory provisions applying to staggered working hours. The written agreement must be concluded 30 days prior to the beginning of the staggered work period, and its duration cannot exceed six months.
The bill reduces the maximum daily overtime limit over that the employee is entitled to refuse to work from four hours to two hours. The bill requires employers to give employees five days’ prior notice that additional hours are needed. Employees may refuse to work overtime if the notice has not been delivered within the new timeline, unless the nature of their duties requires them to remain available or their services are required, within the limits set out in current legislation regarding maximum working hours.
After three years of continuous service with the same employer, the employee will be entitled to at least three weeks’ vacation. Currently, the employee is entitled to three weeks paid annual leave after five years of service with the same employer.
The bill introduces a new definition of “relative” for the purposes of determining eligibility for leave to fulfill family obligations and provide caregiving. In addition to the spouse, child, father, mother, brother, sister and grandparents of the employee or the employee’s spouse, relatives will include those persons’ spouses, their children and their children’s spouses. The new definition further includes foster family, tutor, curator and mandatary relationships, as well as any person “for whom the employee acts as a caregiver, as attested by a professional working in the health and social services sector.”
After three months of uninterrupted service with the same employer, the employee will be entitled to two days of paid leave for the care, health or education of a relative, as well as for matters related to sickness, an organ or tissue donation for transplants, an accident, or a criminal offence. The employer is required to pay remuneration for only two days of absence per year for the reasons mentioned above.
Currently, the employee is entitled to 10 days of unpaid leave per year for the family obligations mentioned above and up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave over a 12-month period for the circumstances related to sickness, organ or tissue donation, accident, and criminal offence. Whereas the proposed two days of paid leave require three months of service, the unpaid leave periods will no longer require a minimum period of service.
The duration of unpaid absences is extended or newly introduced in the following circumstances:
- Care for a relative because of a serious illness or an accident is extended from 12 weeks to 16 weeks over a 12-month period.
- Care for a minor child because of a serious illness or accident is extended from 12 weeks to 36 weeks over a 12-month period.
- Care for a relative because of a potentially mortal illness is introduced for up to 27 weeks over a 12-month period.
- Absence related to the disappearance or death of a minor child that is probably the result of a criminal offense, or the suicide of the employee’s spouse, father, mother or child of full age, is increased from 52 weeks to 104 weeks.
- Absence for death or funeral of a spouse, child, spouse’s child, father, mother, brother or sister is increased from one to two days of paid leave and unpaid leave is reduced from four days to three days.
In addition, absences due to domestic violence of which the employee has been a victim would be added to the category of absences due to sickness, organ or tissue donation, accident, and criminal offence. The new absence cannot exceed 26 weeks over a 12-month period.
Wages and placement agencies
Discrimination based on employment status would be prohibited. Employees should be paid the same rate when performing the same task unless the pay difference is justified by objective criteria such as experience, performance, etc.
Placement or recruitment agencies should not pay their employees at a lower rate of pay than other employees of the client employer for the same task, unless it is justified by objective criteria. Both the placement agency and the client employer will be liable if this new provision is not respected. In addition, a license from the CNESST is now required to operate a placement or recruitment agency. Client employers would face a significant fine for employing staff through a nonlicensed placement agency.
Sexual and psychological harassment
The definition of psychological harassment is broadened to include sexual harassment, which is in line with current case law. Employers would be required to adopt and make available to employees a policy for the prevention of psychological harassment and a system for processing complaints.
Differences in treatment based on hiring date
Distinctions based on date of hire that affect employees performing the same tasks would be prohibited in relation to pension plans or other employee benefits, which will bring legislation in line with current case law. Employees would be able to file a complaint in writing with CNESST within 90 days starting from the date the distinction became known to them.
If adopted, the bill will have a major financial impact on Quebec businesses that may cost employers between CAD 600 million and CAD 690 million, according to one estimate. Employers should monitor the implementation timeline and update their policies accordingly.
Full-text of an Act to amend the Act respecting labour standards and other legislative provisions mainly to facilitate family-work balance