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Employer May Change Duties After Maternity Leave
February 5, 2007

Before going on maternity leave, the employee, a Senior Cash Application Clerk, was responsible for processing and recording customer payments, managing collections and lock box deposits and preparing bank statements. After she returned from maternity leave, her process and recording duties were reduced by 15%, her other duties were assigned to other clerks, and she was assigned new tasks previously performed by a temporary clerk. She complained that her employer had breached the Alberta Employment Standards Code by changing her duties while she was on leave. The Director of Employment Standards upheld her complaint and the Employer appealed to a judge of the Alberta Provincial Court, sitting as an umpire under the Code.

The employer’s appeal was allowed. The Court found that the employee’s new duties, although different from her duties before her leave, were consistent with those expected of a Cash Application Clerk. She returned to the same number of hours, pay and benefits. A workplace is a dynamic environment in which work is assigned to meet the needs of the employer, the Court said. Thus, an employee’s duties may change as long as there is no fundamental or substantial change in the kind of work the employee was hired to do.

This decision may be helpful for employers in British Columbia because the provisions of the British Columbia Employment Standards Actabout the work that an employee is assigned after a leave are similar to those of the Alberta Code: both acts say that an employee must be allowed to return to work of a “comparable” nature.

Harris & Company acted for the employer in the Alberta Provincial Court.

Re Saputo Foods Ltd., [2006] A.E.S.U.D. No. 10