On March 20, 2020 the Government of Saskatchewan enacted amendments to The Employment Standards Regulations (the "Amendments").

The Amendments are intended to create a balance between employer and employee interests where the decision is made to lay-off employees due to a "public health emergency".

The Amendments define a public health emergency as occurring in one of two situations: first, if an emergency declaration is made under The Emergency Planning Act; and second, if the Chief Medical Health Officer makes an order that a disease poses a serious public health risk in Saskatchewan and that individuals must take measures to isolate themselves to prevent spread of that disease.

In the event that a public health emergency exists, the Amendments provide that an employer will not have to provide notice or pay in lieu of notice of layoff as otherwise required under The Saskatchewan Employment Act when they lay-off employees for a period of 12 weeks or less in a 16-week period.

However, if an employer lays off employees periodically for a total of more than 12 weeks in a 16-week period, the employees are considered to be terminated and are entitled to pay instead of notice as outlined in The Saskatchewan Employment Act. The notice calculation is made from the date on which the employee was laid off.

In addition, the Amendments also make changes to the parameters of public health emergency leave. The amendments now provide that an employee is entitled to take public health emergency leave in the event that they need to care for an adult family member who is affected by an order from the chief medical health officer.

The amendments also provide that in the event that there is a conflict of opinion between the employer and medical or governmental authorities regarding the contents of an order from the chief medical health officer, the opinion of government and medical authorities prevails.

It is not clear what effect the amendments will have on common law, contractual or collective bargaining entitlements in relation to layoffs.

The MLT Aikins labour and employment team will continue to monitor the situation and provide additional updates on legal issues that may impact employers. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to reach out to our team if you require assistance in getting your organization prepared for addressing the operational impacts of COVID-19.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.