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Small Businesses Brace for More Changes to Employment Rules


Amber Ruddy

Thought the Alberta government’s drastic overhaul of employment standards and the Labour Relations Code was burdensome? Changes to statutory holiday pay, overtime provisions and removing the secret ballot vote to unionize left business owners reeling. Well brace yourself; the Alberta government is far from done stacking the deck against small business owners.

New Occupational Health and Safety rules are now in effect, as of June 1. The enabling legislation focuses on processes rather than outcomes and creates a series of mandatory workplace safety initiatives for businesses. The new act may require a significant investment of resources to simply be compliant.

In the past, workplace safety was treated as the joint responsibility of employers and employees. Employees used to have a duty to refuse work that posed an imminent danger to their health and safety. That duty now becomes a discretionary right. The removal of this shared obligation is a step backwards and promotes the abdication of individual responsibility necessary at every worksite in Alberta.

What other onerous new policies are now in effect? Businesses with five to 19 employees must appoint a health and safety representative. That representative is required to take additional employee training on workplace safety for a minimum of 16 hours (or two shifts worth, whichever is greater) per year.

If your business employs 20 or more people, you now must establish a joint worksite health and safety committee. This committee must have at least four members, half of which must represent workers and must meet at least quarterly. The joint worksite health and safety committee either has to meet during regular work hours or will have to be paid for additional time spent on their duties in this role.

Thought you got into business to sell your unique products and services? Well, don’t neglect your job as an expert in employment legislation. Ensuring workers are not subject to nor participate in workplace harassment or violence is a given. But did you know your obligations now include advising workers of treatment options if harmed by violence or harassment and providing workers with wage and benefit entitlements while attending treatment programs?

Small business owners care about the health and wellness of their employees; in fact in many cases friends and family members are employed in the business. What the Alberta government fails to understand is that more rules don’t necessarily mean safer workplaces. No matter how hard they try, governments can’t legislate common sense.

In a recent survey of 800 business owners in Alberta conducted by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), 94 per cent said employment laws should be more flexible for small employers to better support small businesses. Small business owners are well placed to understand the unique needs in their workplace and act accordingly.

Keeping track of all requirements can be completely overwhelming. It’s time for the Alberta government to put themselves in the shoes of small business owners and attempt to understand the realities of running a small firm.

Amber Ruddy is the director of provincial affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @aruddy.