Due to the significant number of forest fire evacuations in northern Saskatchewan, many employees may now not be able to report for work and businesses may be forced to shut down their operations. This can raise questions for employers as to whether employees are still entitled to the wages and benefits they would normally receive.
The general rule is that if an employee does not work, an employer is not obligated to pay the employee, subject to statutory and contractual obligations. An employer may choose to continue paying salary; however, the Saskatchewan Employment Act, SS 2013, c S-15.1 does not require this. Whether an employee is entitled to benefits will depend on the policy in place and the terms of the plan.
For non-unionized employees, the inability to report to work may amount to a frustration of contract for the time of the evacuation. In such a case, an employee will not be entitled to pay for work not completed. This is subject to the specific wording of each employment contract. An employee’s job, however, will need to remain available to them once the evacuation has been lifted in order to avoid triggering layoff and severance obligations.
During an evacuation, the collective bargaining agreement will remain in force for unionized employees. It may contain provisions governing evacuations or other emergencies that will need to be consulted. Similar to non-unionized employees, unless the collective agreement provides otherwise, employees will not be entitled to pay during the evacuation period if they are not able to perform any work. The collective agreement may also trigger other obligations such as reporting pay and seniority provisions that allow employees to bump those with less seniority for work in locations not subject to the evacuation.