New workplace bill would give Albertans job-protected sick days

A new bill making its way through the Alberta legislature aims to bring the province’s workplace law up to date with the rest of Canada – including guaranteed, job-protected leave for employees with illness.

Bill 17, or the Fair and Family-Friendly Workplaces Act, was introduced on May 24 and had its second reading on the following day. If passed, the bill would align many types of leave with federal standards, including leaves for maternity, bereavement, domestic violence, citizenship ceremonies and illness, death or disappearance of a child, according to an announcement from the provincial Ministry of Labour (MOL).

The bill would also allow workers to have a maximum of five days of job protection for personal illness or short-term care of an immediate family member per year, as well as 16 weeks of unpaid, protected leave for long-term illness or injury.

“A guarantee of job-protected, unpaid sick days would give workers time to get healthy,” Alberta Labour Minister Christina Gray said in a press statement, “and it would keep employers from worrying about ill workers spreading infectious bugs to others because they are afraid to take a sick day off.

“These proposed changes would make life better for workers and employers,” added Gray.

The MOL noted that Alberta’s Employment Standards Code and Labour Relations Code have not been updated in any significant way in almost 30 years.

The bill has received public support from doctors across the province. Edmonton family physician Dr. Doug Klein called the sick-day provisions “an important social support initiative” in a statement.

“There is a small minority of Albertans who fear taking sick leave will cost them their jobs,” said Dr. David Ryan, a family doctor in St. Albert. “These proposed changes would improve the overall health of Albertans and protect our workforce.”

“I’ve seen too many hard-working Albertans juggle work and family responsibilities while battling a chronic illness,” said medical specialist Dr. Raquel Feroe. “This balancing act comes at the detriment of the patient. Long-term job-protected sick leave will help Albertans focus on recovery and battling illness.”

Other legislative amendments proposed in Bill 17 include raising the minimum work age to 13, modernizing standards for overtime and vacation pay, simplifying union certification and decertification and elimination a provision that allows employers to pay less than minimum wage to disabled workers.

Currently, Alberta and British Columbia are the only two Canadian provinces without job-protected sick leave. The territory of Nunavut also lacks this provision.

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