Computers in empty office (Photo: Chris Ryan/Getty)

Any new rules to provide flexible work options for federally regulated workers will not become a burden on small businesses, the federal labour minister says. Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk said small- and medium-sized businesses will have the right to refuse a request if they need to protect their companies, no matter what rules the federal government ultimately enacts.

“There is some nervousness that it will be a burden for small companies. You have the right to say no. Your operations are the most important. We want you to be successful,” Mihychuk said outside a cabinet meeting Tuesday.

Saying no to requests for changes in hours, for instance, could come at a different sort of price like staff leaving, particularly with aboriginal workers who may need time off for traditional hunts, Mihychuk said. Companies that aren’t flexible on those cultural requests have found staff regularly quitting for other jobs, she said.

The federal government started consulting on the proposal last month, and the issue was a focus in talks last week between Mihychuk and her provincial counterparts.

The proposal would allow some 883,000 federally regulated workers—about six percent of the Canadian workforce—to request a change to where they work or their schedule, or to seek time off to deal with a personal situation.

A discussion paper the government posted online last month as part of consultations on the proposal says workers are struggling to find a better work-life balance, and millennials—the largest generation in the Canadian workforce—are demanding more flexibility over when, where and how they perform their jobs.

The paper also makes repeated references to aboriginal workers, whose numbers could swell by 400,000 over the coming decade as more indigenous youth become old enough to enter the job market. An earlier version of the document did not specifically mention aboriginal workers and Mihychuk said she had asked for special references to be made in the final public document.

The document also raises questions about how to tell whether any new rules are being followed. It says the current oversight regime is not adequate to monitor the effects of new flexible work rules and raises the possibility of reporting requirements for businesses.

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