These changes to Canada’s Labour Code affect private sector employers

30 October 2019
Canada is one of the world’s most attractive destinations for companies looking to expand internationally. The country benefits from a highly educated workforce, stable political environment and welcoming culture. And the World Bank’s most recent data ranks Canada an impressive third globally for starting a business.

Those same World Bank rankings, however, put Canada 23rd for ease of doing business overall, which reflects Canada’s sometimes onerous regulations. Recent changes to the Canada Labour Code represent another challenge to employers, at least until they’re able to understand the new requirements and implement policies and procedures to ensure compliance.


The Canada Labour Code, or “the Code,” sets out minimum employment standards for the federally regulated private sector whose activities cross between provinces. It’s important to note that the Code applies to employers that are in these federally regulated businesses. Most employers in Canada are in fact governed by provincial law. That said, the Code influences changes to provincial labour laws, and the recent changes to the Code will directly affect federally regulated employers and over 900,000 workers across the nation.

According to a 2018 government report, the long-anticipated recent changes to the Code came as a result of increased global competition and rapid technological advancements that have fundamentally altered the way businesses operate.

Canada’s Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Patty Hajdu explains in a message within the report that the country’s federal labour standards were established in the 1960s, when most jobs were full-time and permanent. As gigging and other non-standard employment began to rise in popularity, the labour code remained largely unchanged. In short, Hajdu says, “the way Canadians work has changed, but the federal labour standards have not.”

The recent changes took effect 1 September 2019, and are intended to modernize Canada’s labour standards, in part by helping employees achieve better work-life balance. Below is a summary of the most important Code revisions.

Flexible work arrangements

After six consecutive months of employment, workers have a right to request a change to their work hours, schedule and location. The request must be made in writing and employers are required to respond within 30 days. According to the provisions, employers must approve these requests unless there are legitimate operational reasons for not doing so.

Work schedule, rest periods and breaks

30-minute breaks

Employees are entitled to an unpaid 30-minute break after working for five consecutive hours. If the employee is required to remain available during this time, the break must be paid.

Breaks for medical reasons/nursing

Employees are entitled to breaks as necessary for medical reasons or to nurse.

Shift changes

If an employer wants to change an employee’s shift or work period, it must provide the employee with written notice at least 24 hours in advance of the change.

Notice of schedule

Employers must provide employees with their work schedule a minimum of 96 hours prior to the start of the first shift.

Eight-hour rest periods

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


Employees can elect to receive either 1.5 hours of paid time off for each hour of overtime worked or receive overtime pay of 1.5 times the regular rate.

Additionally, subject to certain conditions, employees may refuse to work overtime hours due to familial responsibilities. Employers are prohibited from taking this refusal into account to dismiss, promote, demote or train the employee.

Enhanced leave entitlements

Vacation entitlements

The new law increases vacation time and pay entitlements. The changes are as follows:

  • One year of employment: Two weeks paid vacation
  • Five years of employment: Three weeks paid vacation
  • Ten years of employment: Four weeks paid vacation

Personal leave

Every employee is entitled to five days of personal leave each year. For employees who have completed three consecutive months of employment, three of these days will be paid and two will be unpaid. Personal leave may be taken for the following reasons:

  • To treat a personal injury or illness
  • To fulfil responsibilities related to the health or care of a family member
  • To fulfil responsibilities related to the education of a family member under the age of 18
  • To address an urgent personal or family matter
  • To attend a citizenship ceremony

Employers are permitted to request documentation to support the reason for the leave.

Medical leave

The new law changes the term “sick leave” to “medical leave.” The medical leave entitlement will remain fixed at 17 weeks per year. However, employees are now permitted to use this time for personal illness or injury, organ or tissue donations, and medical appointments. For medical leave that lasts three days or longer, employers may request a certificate from a health care practitioner to verify that the employee is unable to work.

Family violence leave

An employee who is the victim of family violence or is the parent of a child who is the victim of family violence is entitled to 10 days of annual leave to seek medical or professional attention.

Employees who have completed three consecutive months of employment are entitled to the first five days of absence with pay.

Bereavement leave

Bereavement leave has been extended from three to five days per year. Employees who have completed three consecutive months of employment are entitled to receive pay for three of the five days.

Traditional Aboriginal practice leave

Employees who identify as Aboriginal are entitled to five days of unpaid leave per year to engage in traditional Aboriginal practices. This leave may only be taken after an employee has completed three consecutive months of employment.

Mike Freyer, Senior HR Consultant, contributed to this article.