Employment Law in the time of COVID – Invest Medicine Hat

Employment Law in the time of COVID

News / People / Professional Services


In a typical business environment, Luke Day- a partner at Stringam LLP, would find himself on the other side of the table from Alberta Employment Relations. It goes without saying that we all find ourselves outside of that typical business environment, and with that comes a new way of collaboration to ensure that employers are able to find solutions that are still within the regulations but also serve their greatest asset- their employees.


Luke maintains a general law practice focusing on Commercial Civil Litigation, Contract Law, Employment Law, Development Law, Condominium Law, Construction Law, Personal Injury, Bankruptcy and Insolvency, Immigration Law and Corporate/Commercial Law and practices out of Stringam’s Medicine Hat office. That being said, a large portion of his work involves dealing with employers, particularly in the construction industry, to advise them of best practices and helping to ensure that they are following the Employment Standards Code when it comes to lay-offs and terminations.


Through his work, Luke is no stranger to Alberta Employment Relations, who provide support for employees who believe their rights under the Employment Standards Code have been violated. In most interactions, they are at odds, however, with Luke stepping up to the plate by sharing his expertise on the YXH Business Support Group to provide information to employers, an unlikely partnership has formed.


Alberta Employment Relations has officers that are there to assist employees when they get let go if the employer is not following something properly in respect to how the employment code works. During this process, an employee would bring a complaint, the officers do an investigation and see if the employer has indeed done something outside of the Employment Standards Code. They will engage with the employer, which is where Luke comes in, and let them know if they believe they are offside and have a discussion about that or potentially advise the employee to pursue litigation.


Generally speaking, the code says when an employer is going to lay someone off there are certain things that have to happen. If the employee has been with the employer between 3 months and two years, the employer must give one week notice that a layoff is coming. For employees that have been with the employer for more than two years, there is a two week grace period before the layoff. The code states that if something happens that is unexpected, such as an emergency situation, no notice is required.


When COVID-19 hit hard at mid to the end of March, a lot of employers, particularly once the Alberta Emergency Rules went into effect where non-essential services couldn’t keep their businesses open, went to zero or next to zero in revenue. Because of this, there just wasn’t time to give those notice periods, and as a result, a lot of employers laid everybody off right away out of necessity.


These mass layoffs, as well as the application of an emergency situation, caused confusion both for employees and employers about what was the appropriate and legal course of action. Officers from Alberta Employment Relations took notice of Luke’s work on the YXH Business Support Group. Luke let them know that he would be talking to employers and giving advice during a critical stage when notice isn’t required, which would typically be against the rules. Subsequently, Luke had Officers from Employment Standards calling him and asking to work together. By Luke providing correct information directly to the sources that needed it, in this case, employers, it helps Alberta Employment by getting information out on how to affect a lay off properly and how to show employees that these are exceptional times.


After watching Luke’s Facebook Live to employers, Luke was pleased with their reaction.


“They said, Hey. We know you’re here to speak to businesses and support businesses, but we thought you were fair and it assists us that you are getting the information out to those employers on how to do things properly. It will reduce the amount of complaints if we can get everybody working together and properly recognizing the rules, and properly recognizing that we are in a crisis and the rules change.” said Luke. “ We all worked together and it was better for everybody, and we got everybody moving along the line better. Because there were some people that generally still had recourse that there were other rules being broken- which is normal- but not this. This is a crisis. That was really unique.”


Luke also believes that the Alberta Government wants employers to work with them so they do not have to lay everybody off. By telling employers what is coming by way of support and what they can expect, it allows them to make business decisions that are better informed and potentially retain staff that they would otherwise have to let go.


“We will all be better as a society, both as employers and employees, to be keeping their employment and making the money they were making before rather than being forced to accept CERB. Your people are your most important asset. It’s a critical and challenging issue- wage benefit will help but we need urgency from the government to get it done.”


To hear Luke’s Facebook Live’s on Employment Law and Regulations, ask to join the YXH Business Support Group.

Luke can also be reached at his office at Stringam 403-488-8200, and you can view more information on Stringam Law on their website.