Alberta’s Employment Standards Code and Regulation are the laws that define the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees for fair treatment. The Code sets out rules for how long you can work without a break, how soon you must be paid for the work you have done, general holidays and time off work for vacations and leaves, and ending your employment, among other things. The Regulation sets out minimum wage rules and exceptions to the Code that apply to managers (e.g., hours of work and overtime), camp counsellors (e.g., hours of work, overtime and statutory holidays), and some other groups. These rules set out the minimum that you are entitled to, but your employer may set policies that give you more than that minimum. For a summary of these rules, read the Employment Standards Guide and its updates.
Note that the Employment Standards do not define full-time, part-time or casual (e.g., on-call or relief work) employment. Statistics Canada defines full-time employment as a commitment of 30 or more hours of regularly scheduled employment per week and part-time employment as less than that. Casual employment involves irregular hours that are not the same from week to week and no guarantee of a minimum number of hours.
Here are some of the Employment Standards rules we are most often asked about at ADWA.
Pay – Your employer must pay you at least once a month no later than 10 days after the end of the pay period on your time sheet. This delay also applies to the last pay cheque if you quit or are fired without notice. If you or your employer gives notice that the job is ending or you have a temporary contract with an end date, you must be paid no late than 3 days after your last day of work. Your employer cannot reduce your pay rate without telling you before the start of the pay period with the lower rate. Money can be taken off your pay for things like meals, but you must be told about it. This sometimes happens in residential support work.
Vacation pay – Vacation is paid time off, but how it is paid out depends on whether the employee is paid the same amount each month or paid hourly (casual/relief). Workers with the same pay each month (full-time or part-time) are paid for their vacation when they take it (i.e., their monthly paycheque is the same in a vacation month as a non-vacation month). Some employers choose to pre-pay casual employees for their vacation and put an extra 2% for every week of vacation time on each paycheque. But the vacation pay must be given no later than the scheduled pay-day after the employee starts their annual vacation. If the vacation has not been pre-paid, an employee may ask for it to be paid at least 1 day before the vacation is to start. Any vacation pay that has been earned but not used or pre-paid before a worker leaves a job must be paid out on the final paycheque.
Work time – You cannot work more than 12 hours in a row on any one work day unless there is an emergency or your employer gets approval from the government first (i.e., an exemption). There are exceptions for "caregivers" (i.e., "home care" = one-on-one support of individuals in their home that is paid by an agency rather than a family, and "residential care" = residential services provided to multiple individuals in a group home or shelter). Both of these groups can work a 24-hour shift. Home care employees working a 24-hour shift must be paid at least 12 hours of minimum wage for the 24 hours. Residential workers must be paid at least minimum wage for the full 24 hours. Both home care and residential employees who work less than 24 hours in a shift must be paid at least minimum wage for every hour worked. If you work a 24-hour shift as a residential worker, overtime is paid after you reach 264 hours in the month. For residential workers with shifts under 24 hours, the hours worked beyond 12 hours per work day or 264 hours per work month, whichever is greater are overtime hours. If a "caregiver" works during the up to 8 hours of sleep time set by the employer, the time worked is counted as work when calculating daily and monthly overtime. (Yes, it IS complicated.)
If a "caregiver" accompanies an individual on a vacation or other outing, the worker must be paid at least what would have been earned had they not been accompanying that individual.
Breaks - You must be given at least 30 minutes of unpaid or paid rest within every 5 hours of shift time unless
- it is an emergency or
- you are part of a union with a collective bargaining that has a different plan for breaks or
- it is “not reasonable” for the employee to take a rest period. The 30 minutes can be a single period or two 15-minute periods if you and the employer agree.
Because it is common for disability workers to be working alone in the community, if the individual you are supporting needs constant attention it is usually considered “not reasonable” for a disability worker to have a 30 minute break. (This rule was never intended to keep workers from having a 2-minute bathroom break.)
Normally, a shift must be at least two hours long. If you support several different individuals in their homes in a day, you may have shorter periods of support broken up by periods of travel. If the travel time is an unpaid break then the visit before and after that travel break are considered as separate shifts and paid for a minimum of 2 hours each at minimum wage or the actual time at the regular wage rate, whichever is greater. But if the break between visits is a meal break, the visits on either side of the meal count as a single shift.
Days off – Every employee must have a day off for every week. It may be in the form of a day in each week or 2 days in a row is a 2-week period or 3 days in a row in a 3-week period or 4 days in a row after 24 days of work. (This last plan is most common with work in remote places.)
Overtime – Anything over 8 hours in a day or 44 hours in a week (whichever is more) is “overtime.” (For instance, a pattern of two 12-hour days followed by a day off has no overtime, because the weekly balance is less than 44 hours.) There is an exception for "caregivers," defined as people who provide residential support in an individual's home or to multiple individuals in a group home or shelter. (See "Work Time & Breaks" for details.) Many places have an overtime agreement that says workers will get equal paid time off instead of money for any extra time worked with the employer’s approval. Workers must take the time off within 6 months of when it was earned unless there is a collective bargaining agreement or an agreement with government that workers can have more than 6 months to take “lieu time” off. If there is no overtime agreement or collective bargaining agreement, overtime is to be at least 1.5 times the regular pay rate.
Statutory holidays – In Alberta, New Year’s Day, Family Day, Good Friday, Victoria Day, Canada Day, Labour Day, Thanksgiving, Remembrance Day and Christmas are general (or statutory) holidays in Alberta and employees are paid for them after working there a month if the holiday falls on a work day for that person. An employer may treat other days, such as Boxing Day, Heritage Day or Easter Monday, as a general holiday as well. For a casual/relief worker with a schedule that varies, the holiday is paid if the person worked 5 of the 9 previous days of the week that the holiday falls on. For instance, someone who worked 6 of the previous 9 Mondays would be paid for Labour Day. Individuals who have to work on a statutory holiday must be given a paid day off to make up for it or must be paid 1.5 times their usual pay rate if they don’t normally work that day or 2.5 times their usual pay rate if they do normally work that day. Most employers choose to give an extra paid day off instead.
Vacation time – The law says employees must be given at least 2 weeks of vacation after every year for the first 4 years of employment there and 3 weeks a year after 5 years in a row of employment. A break of less than 3 months is considered to be continuous employment for purposes of working out the number of years of employment. Employees have the right to take their vacation all at once or in smaller chunks, but no smaller than a day at a time. If the employer and employee cannot agree to the timing of the vacation, the employer can set the time to take the vacation with 2 weeks’ notice.
Leave of absence – The rules for many kinds of leaves of absence are set in the Employment Standards Code: maternity, parental, compassionate, personal & family responsibility, critical illness of family, death or disappearance of a child, long-term illness & injury, bereavement, domestic violence, citizenship and reservist leaves. The rules say that the employer does not have to pay the employee for any of these leaves. But an employer cannot terminate or lay off an employee during a leave unless the operation shuts down. Employees are eligible for unpaid leaves after 90 days.
- Maternity leave – Unpaid maternity leave can start as early as 12 weeks before her due date but last no longer than 16 weeks. It must also include at least 6 weeks after the baby is born unless both employee and employer agree and a doctor says an early return to work will not endanger her health. The employee is normally expected to give 6 weeks written notice of the leave start date. An employer can ask for a medical certificate with her expected delivery date. If the pregnancy causes medical problems or performance problems, the employer can give written notice to start maternity leave early or the employee can supply a medical certificate to start early. The employee must give 4 weeks’ notice that she is returning to work or quitting.
- Parental leave – Either parent can apply for unpaid parental leave of up to 62 weeks during the first year of the baby’s life or adoption into the family. Both parents, if they have the same employer may share the leave time, but the employer does not have to let them both be on parental leave at the same time. At least 6 weeks’ notice of the leave must normally be given unless circumstances prevent it. Return to work notice must be given 4 weeks in advance.
- Compassionate care leave – Employees may take up to 27 weeks off work to care for a common-law partner or family member (i.e., spouse, child or parent of the employee or employee’s partner) who “has a serious medical condition with a significant risk of death within 26 weeks” according to a physician’s certificate. Normally 2 weeks’ notice should be given of the need for the leave and 1 week notice for return to work. Any scheduled vacation during the compassionate care leave must be taken immediately after the leave ends, unless both employee and employer agree.
- Personal & Family Responsibility leave – Employees can take up to 5 days of unpaid time to care for a sick family member or their own illness.
- Critical Illness of Family leave - An employee may take up to 16 weeks to care for a critically ill adult family member or up to 36 weeks to care for a critically ill child.
- Death or Disappearance of a child - An employee may take up to 52 weeks leave if their child has disappeared as the result of a crime (e.g., kidnapping or parental abduction) but not if the child has run away. An employee whose child has died as the result of a crime can take up to 104 weeks leave of absence.
- Long Term Illness/Injury- An employee can take up to 16 weeks unpaid leave for a long term illness or injury
- Bereavement - An employee may take up to 3 days per year of bereavement leave to attend funerals or memorial services.
- Domestic Violence leave - An employee can take up to 10 days in a year of unpaid leave to deal with the aftermath of domestic violence.
- Citizenship leave - An employee is allowed one unpaid half day off to attend their own citizenship ceremony.
- Reservist leave – A reservist in the Canadian military can take an unpaid leave to meet military training or deployment obligations after being employed 26 weeks. Normally 4 weeks’ notice must be given of the leave noting the date when the person is expected to return to work. (Date of return may change in the case of deployment.) The employer may ask for confirmation from the worker’s commanding officer.
Termination of Employment – An employee may quit, be fired or “let go” (with or without cause), laid off or may reach then end of a contract with a specified end date. An employer cannot change the rate of pay after termination notice has been given.
- Quitting – A worker who quits their job should give the employer at least 1 week notice in writing if employed for between 3 months and 2 years and 2 weeks’ notice if employed longer. Exceptions to this rule apply if, among other reasons, the worker quit due to health or safety concerns, inability to perform the job due to circumstances beyond the employee’s control, or their pay was reduced. An employer may choose to pay out the time between notice and leaving and have the employee leave early.
- Firing with just cause – An employer does not have to give any advance notice to terminate an employee for just cause or provide termination pay instead of notice. “Just cause” is not defined in the Code, but would certainly include all forms of abuse or putting others in danger, or committing a felony while at work. It is always good to ask an employer as to what is considered just cause for termination there.
- Layoff – An employee may be laid off work temporarily if there is no work available for which the employee is qualified. If the employee has not been recalled to work or paid some other amount within 60 days after the layoff, the employment is terminated and the employer must pay termination pay according to the length of previous employment there. A worker who refuses “reasonable alternative work” offered by the employer during layoff may be terminated.
- Other termination – Either an employer or an employee can terminate the employment relationship during the first 3 months without giving notice or termination pay or a reason. After that time, notice and/or termination pay must be given in an amount related to length of continuous employment there. An employee is entitled to 1 week for every 2 years of employment up to 10 years and 8 weeks of notice if employed there for 10 years or more. Termination pay for casual/relief employees is based on the average earned in the most recent 3-month period.
Your Rights and Responsibilities at Work is one of several government publications at this web location that explains Alberta’s employment rules and exceptions in easy-to-understand words. With recent changes to the law, some of these easy-to-read publications are being updated. You may need to check back later. You can also read the laws directly:
There are also separate Employment Standards rules for wages, hours of work and overtime for residential workers.
If you think that you may have been treated unfairly or have a question about Alberta’s Employment Standards, call 1-877-427-3731 free.
If you have questions related to being a Temporary Foreign Worker, you can also call 1-877-944-9955 free.