Quebec Bill 176: Differences in treatment with respect to pension plans and employee benefits and other amendments to the Act respecting labour standards
Bill 176, An Act to amend the Act respecting labour standards and other legislative provisions mainly to facilitate family-work balance, was introduced to the Quebec National Assembly by Dominique Vien, Minister responsible for Labour, on March 20, 2018. This bill affects all employers who have employees in Quebec, except those under federal jurisdiction.
As expected (see December 2017 News & Views), the bill prohibits differences in treatment as regards pension plans or other employee benefits based solely on the hiring date of employees who perform the same tasks in the same establishment. It is important to note that existing difference in treatment clauses may continue to apply. Also, it will still be possible to establish such clauses between now and the date the bill comes into force.
The bill does not specify what constitutes a difference in treatment. It also does not specify, with regard to the possibility of introducing new plans or programs that establish a distinction based on hire date, what would be considered equivalency with existing plans or programs.
As noted, the new rules will apply to employees in Quebec (except those under federal jurisdiction) including any employee who is a member of a pension plan registered outside Quebec. This means that an employer who has employees in different provinces, and wishes to amend the plan provisions for new employees, may end up with different provisions for employees in Quebec.
Recourse is provided for employees who believe they have been the victim of a prohibited distinction with respect to pension plans or other benefits. An employee may file a complaint with the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST) within 90 days of the distinction becoming known to the employee. The complaint may be referred to the Administrative Labour Tribunal (ALT) by the CNESST. The ALT may render any decision it believes fair and reasonable, including:
- order that the distinction no longer be made;
- order that an employee be made a member of a pension plan, or make other employee benefits applicable to the employee;
- order the employer to pay the employee an indemnity for the loss resulting from the distinction.
Leaves of absence during which participation in pension and group benefit plans must be maintained
In other amendments of interest to the Act respecting Labour Standards, certain leaves of absence require continuation of the employee’s participation in pension and group benefit plans, if the employee pays the employee portion of required contributions, namely:
- Unpaid leave of absence of not more than 16 weeks over a period of 12 months where the employee must stay with a relative1 or a person for whom the employee acts as a caregiver, as attested by a professional working in the health and social services sector, because of a serious illness or a serious accident. Previously, this period of leave was not more than 12 weeks over a period of 12 months. Where the relative or person is a minor child, the period of absence is not more than 36 weeks over a period of 12 months.
- Unpaid leave of absence of not more than 27 weeks over a period of 12 months where the employee must stay with a relative,1 other than the employee’s minor child, or a person for whom the employee acts as a caregiver, as attested by a professional working in the health and social services sector, because of a serious and potentially fatal illness, attested by a medical certificate.
- Unpaid leave of absence of not more than 104 weeks by reason of the death of the employee’s minor child.
Employers should check the wording in their pension plan texts to determine whether the leaves of absence required under the Act respecting labour standards are adequately covered. Employers who are contemplating plan changes that could be considered differences in treatment may wish to consider adopting them before the new law is implemented. The government indicates that it wishes to adopt Bill 176 by the summer. We will keep you informed of further developments.
1 The bill also adds a definition for “relative” and includes, in addition to the employee’s spouse, the child, father, mother, brother, sister and grandparents of the employee or the employee’s spouse, as well as those persons’ spouses, their children and their children’s spouses.