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Emergency Leave Now in Force in the Northwest Territories

12-Jul-21

By Marie-Pier Leduc

On July 1, 2021, amendments to the Northwest Territories’ Employment Standards Act (the “Act”) relating to emergency leave and group terminations came into force. These amendments were adopted in direct response to the ongoing COVID-19 state of emergency but apply broadly to situations which qualify as emergencies or unforeseen circumstances under the Act.

Emergency Leave

Employees in the Northwest Territories are now entitled to unpaid emergency leave for up to fourteen (14) days. This leave protects employees from termination on the grounds that they are unable to report to work due to an emergency. Examples of situations in which employees can apply for the leave include having to quarantine or self-isolate at the direction of Public Health or having to care for a family member who is affected by an emergency. Employers may require reasonable verification from the employee before granting the leave of absence.

Entitlement to emergency leave is retroactive to March 18, 2020. Employers should be aware that employees terminated due to their inability to report to work as a result of an emergency occurring between March 18, 2020, and June 30, 2021, may be able to submit a complaint to the Employment Standards Office until January 2, 2022.

Group Terminations

Under the Act, employers who wish to terminate a group of employees must provide the Employment Standards Officer with notice of the termination of at least four weeks for a group of fewer than 50 employees, up to sixteen weeks for 300 employees or more. The amendment to the Act now allows for an exception to the requirement of providing notice in case of unforeseen circumstances. Employers are still required to notify the Employment Standards Office of group terminations as soon as possible. Unforeseen circumstances include destruction or major breakdown of equipment, climatic or economic conditions, state of emergency declaration, state of public health declaration, public health order under the Public Health Act, and emergency under the Emergencies Act (Canada).

Reminder: Increase to the Minimum Wage

Finally, a reminder to employers in the Northwest Territories that the minimum wage will increase from $13.46 to $15.20 per hour, on September 1, 2021. If you currently have employees who are being paid less than $15.20, you will have to increase their hourly rates to at least $15.20 before or on September 1, 2021. This change does not affect any employee currently being paid more than $15.20 per hour. However, employers may find themselves facing pressure to increase the wages of other employees as well, in order to maintain a wage differential between their employees’ rates of pay and the minimum wage.

The increase to minimum wage also affects unionized workplaces. Even if rates of pay in the collective agreement are lower than $15.20, employers will still have to comply with the minimum wage. However, the rates of pay of other employees should not be unilaterally changed without consultation with the Union.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact our Yellowknife Office at 867-766-7677.

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