Pay attention to new farm labour laws in Alberta

For Alberta farmers and ranchers, there are no off hours. Every season brings its challenges and some seasons require extra hands to get all the work done.

It’s a way of life that’s never going to change, but changes to Alberta’s Employment Standards mean farmers and ranchers are going to have to take steps to ensure they’re following the law when it comes to waged, non-family employees.

In June 2017, the province passed the Fair and Family-Friendly Workplaces Act, which includes specific changes to the Employment Standards Code to apply it to ranches and farms. As of Jan. 1, the new rules apply to farms and ranches with waged, non-family workers. This includes year-round and seasonal employees.

The employment standards do not apply if everyone who is paid a wage to work on your farm or ranch is an owner or a family member of an owner. Nor do they apply if all non-family members are just helping out or participating in activities like 4-H.

What’s changed and what it means

Before Jan. 1, farm and ranch employees received general holiday pay and vacation pay only if their employer chose to pay. Now all employees are eligible for that pay, which is costly when you have part-time employees. It also means changes have to be made to how you calculate payroll and holiday pay.

Employees are entitled to general holiday pay unless they miss their scheduled shifts right before or after the general holiday without their employer’s consent, or they don’t work on the general holiday when required to. All employees are eligible for vacation pay.

A second issue is that the probationary period has been shortened from three months to 90 days. While that isn’t a problem in itself for most clients, the fact that employees become eligible to take unpaid job-protected leave for various reasons on day 91 is concerning.

While you don’t have to pay an employee when he or she is on leave, you do have to find a replacement. It can be challenging to find someone willing to work in such a situation. There are four short-term leaves employees can take and six long-term leaves. All leaves are available after 90 days of employment except reservist leave, for which you must have worked for 26 weeks.

It should be noted that hours of work are not limited for farms and ranches, you don’t have to pay overtime and it is not legally necessary to provide breaks. Waged, non-family employees must, however, receive four days of rest during every 28-day period. Selection of the days of rest is at the employer’s discretion if the employer and employee can’t agree.

What to do

First and foremost, commit to strengthening your recruitment process. Now more than ever it’s critical to ensure you’re hiring the right person. Secondly, make sure that the person overseeing the new employee during the 90-day probationary period is carefully evaluating performance. It will be much more difficult to let your new employee go once you reach day 91.

You will also want to determine how the new rules for calculating general holiday pay and vacation pay affect your payroll. If required, your accountant can help you.

Finally, many of our ranch and farm clients are implementing policy manuals for the first time. This is beneficial because it gives you the opportunity to clearly spell out both employer and employee expectations and rights. You can have your employees read the manual and sign off on it to ensure they understand everything and to protect yourself should there be an issue in the future.

You should also consider creating forms such as an official offer letter to communicate expectations to new employees from the beginning of your relationship. Clear communication is key to building strong relationships between employers and employees and to avoiding conflict, so implement it from day one.

Legislative changes can be difficult to accept when you’re used to doing things a specific way and busy trying to run your business. But it’s worth investing some time and money for expert advice and assistance to ensure you stay in compliance. If you have questions or concerns, talk to your adviser and take the steps to set your operation up for continued success.

Scott Dickson helped write this column.

Stuart Person, CPA, CA, is national director of primary producers with MNP’s agriculture services. Contact him at
855-667-3301 or stuart.person@mnp.ca

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Comments

  • Kissing optional

    When an opinion piece makes a false statement..
    “…the fact that employees become eligible to take unpaid job-protected leave for various reasons on day 91 is concerning….”
    The fact is, an employer can decline a request to leave in EVERY workplace, granting leave only at employers discretion for work load demand.
    The scare tactics and mongering will raise the closer to election.
    Petty as it is.

    • Harold

      Every work place is not the same. In Union control the consent is contractual. In Government rule of law it is also contractual consent. In the absence of both, consent is practical and logical consent. Practical and logical consent may just get you fired. Which of the three were you referring to? For an example; a Union shop by Contract provides more holidays than do the corporations abiding by the government’s corporate employment Acts, Codes and Regulations. (Minimum wages, Labor Standards and etc.) A Union Contract provides for stress leave, sick leave, bereavement leave, and a host of other benefits, compelling the employer to act. A private employment contract provides only what is written on that contract presented and then is signed by the employer making the contract binding between both parties. Politicians receive retirement benefits after two terms (8 years) in office. Is all of this found in every work place?
      Nonetheless, the fact that I can’t tell the government to get the hell out of my face is something that I don’t find “petty” at all. The fact that I cannot make a deal with another Citizen without the government stepping in-between and directing us both is something that I also do not view as “petty”. The fact that I need government to win my battles for me, kind of places me in the position with little school boys and little school girls and I don’t think that this is a “petty” concern either. Will we vote for less government or more government because the government will agree to control your choices of toilet paper if you asked them; they are not limited until they control every single aspect of your life. A prison cell and penitentiary is your example, and the prison guard is your government. Hey guard, I have a problem; the school kids are being mean to me. When government becomes the “School Principal” in society, then we are truly in trouble and the trouble is not the government. Do you know how to defend yourself and your morals and to keep yourself intact, or is it the Government and more government your only defense?

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