Shutting Down Operations In The NWT Or Nunavut?

The closure of the Snap Lake Mine in the Northwest Territories late last year has focused attention upon the statutory “mass termination” provisions that exist in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

These mass termination provisions, which apply whenever an employer is going to terminate the employment of 25 or more employees in a four week period, were enacted to provide advance notice to the government of these types of terminations. The express intent of these provisions is that the government, with advance notice, may be able to take some steps to mitigate the effects of such a termination on a small economy such as that in the Northwest Territories.

When Nunavut was created in 1999, these mass termination provisions were replicated in Nunavut legislation.

In each jurisdiction, the mass termination provisions require that prior to termination, the employer provide written notice to the Employment Standards Officer (Labour Standards Officer in Nunavut) of:

  1. 4 weeks if more than 24 but less than 50 employees are being terminated;
  2. 8 weeks if more than 49 but less than 100 employees are being terminated;
  3. 12 weeks if more than 99 but less than 300 employees are being terminated; or
  4. 16 weeks if more than 300 employees are being terminated.

The legislation in both the Northwest Territories and Nunavut is clear that this notice must be given to the officer in advance of the employees’ termination. The legislation in both the Northwest Territories and Nunavut also provides that this advance notice is in addition to any statutory termination notice that must be provided.

These provisions prevent the immediate termination of an employer’s operations if the result of the termination of those operations ends the employment of 25 or more employees. It means that employers carrying on business in the Northwest Territories or Nunavut have to be aware of this requirement.

These provisions may also provide some relief for an employer, however. Although the legislation provides only that notice be given to the Employment or Labour Standards Officer, employers may, at the same time, choose to give this notice to employees. This advance notice, coupled with the statutory notice required by the legislation, may together equal an employee’s entire entitlement to notice (remember, the notice provisions in the employment standards legislation in each jurisdiction are only minimums; an employee may be entitled to much more than these minimums at common law or under an employment agreement).

In difficult economic times, employers often are not aware of these provisions and the requirements that may exist in advance of a shutdown of operations. This is an area where advance consultation with an experienced lawyer may save the employer both time and anxiety going forward.