WestJet Seeks Exemption From Canada Labour Code For Group Termination Of +50 Employees

On May 21, 2020, CBC and CTV reported that WestJet is asking the federal government for an exemption from following employment standards legislation. Specifically, WestJet intends to permanently terminate 50 or more people which triggers obligations under “Group Termination”, Division IX of the Canada Labour Code. If successful, WestJet will not be required to give 16 weeks’ notice of the termination or pay in lieu of notice.

In this article we will explain what group terminations under the Canada Labour Code are and what WestJet’s request may mean for federal employees.

Rules on Group Termination and Mass Termination

Both the Canada Labour Code, which applies to federally regulated workforces like WestJet, and the Employment Standards Act, 2000, Ontario’s employment legislation, contain special rules for when an employer is terminating 50 or more employees in a four (4) week period. Federally it is referred to as “Group Termination” and provincially it is called a “Mass Termination”.

Both the federal and provincial legislation requires formal notice to be sent to the government indicating the intention to terminate 50 or more employees prior to notice being given to the employees. To learn about the Ontario provincial group termination rules, read our article Mass Terminations.

1. Increased Statutory Notice Entitlement on Termination

Employees subject to group terminations are entitled to increase statutory notice. In the federal context, instead of two (2) weeks’ notice employees would receive sixteen (16) weeks. The group termination provision is meant to protect employees and provide them with a cushion to reenter the job market.

2. Severance Pay

Severance pay would also be due on top of the notice requirements listed above for employees subject to a group termination.

For federally regulated employees, the employee would receive the greater of two (2) days for each completed year of service or five (5) days’ pay.

3. Employees May Still Be Entitled To More

Employees may also be entitled to more compensation for their termination in the form of reasonable common law notice on top of the notice and severance amounts listed above. The termination provisions of the employment contract, if any, will determine whether the terminated employee will receive statutory entitlement only or common law notice.

WestJet and Group Termination Requirements

Numerous WestJet employees are currently laid off, some received notice of layoff in April, others in May 2020. According to the union representing the employees, those who remain on the payroll are being paid through the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS). It would undercut the purpose of the CEWS to allow WestJet to benefit from the subsidy, but not require that the employer use this time to work with unions and employee associations through a joint planning committee to negotiate the employees’ options in case of termination.

Whether the Labour Minister will grant WestJet the requested exemption to the employment standards legislation remains to be seen. Interestingly the letter to the Minister suggests that the extra compensation to employees pursuant to a Group Termination would be a ‘burden’ to employees, despite the fact that these employees will have lost their jobs permanently and have to search for alternate employment during a global public health crisis and a poor economic outlook. Many of these employees will also have skills geared towards the airline or travel industry where jobs are being purged.

If you are part of a group or mass termination, it is a good idea to have your termination letter reviewed by an employment lawyer. We can help you make an informed decision in a very difficult employment situation. Contact us at Monkhouse Law today for a free consultation.

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