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Changes Coming To Ontario's Labour And Employment Laws

Ontario is one step closer to approving the minimum wage increase of $15 an hour, however that is not the only change that is on Ontario’s horizon. A legislative committee studying the bill has concluded its work, advancing the bill to the fall session of the legislature, which begins September 11.

Bill 148, known as the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, includes much more than a dramatic increase in the minimum wage. The bill makes large amendments to the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”), Ontario’s minimum standards legislation, and the Labour Relations Act (“LRA”), which governs unionization. Many of these changes are favourable to employees, in an effort to alleviate the impacts of precarious work.

Based on a worker’s classification as either an “employee,” “dependent contractor,” and “independent contractor,” a worker gets different rights under Ontario’s minimum standards legislation. The Ontario government seeks to introduce an automatic presumption that a worker is an “employee” (entitling them to the most rights) and that it would be illegal for an employer to misclassify its workers (to evade minimum standards legislation).

The government also proposed to regulate scheduling inside a workplace. If the bill is passed, an employee who has been working for more than three months in a workplace can request a change in their schedule or work location without fearing dismissal. The well-known “3 hour rule” (i.e that a worker be paid for at least 3 hours for a shift) has been expanded to all workplaces and will even be triggered if an employer cancels a shift 48 hours before the employee was to commence working. An employee will also gain the right to refuse shifts without fear of termination if the request is made less than 96 hours before the proposed shift was to begin.

Vacation pay entitlements will also be increased: an employee working less than 5 years for the same employer will continue to receive 2 weeks of paid vacation but an employee working more than 5 years for the same employer will receive 3 weeks of statutory vacation.

The government also focused on making stronger provisions for equal pay for equal work. If passed, it would become illegal to pay part-time workers less than full-time workers and temporary help workers less than their directly-hired counterparts (absent other objective factors). Moreover, if a worker believes that they were being paid less on the basis of sex or employment status, they would gain the right to request a written review where the employer must either a) raise their wage or b) provide written reasons about why they disagree.

Temporary help agencies would also face further regulation on their practices, including owing its employees one week “termination of assignment” pay (similar to “severance pay”) if the employee was terminated from a contract that was supposed to last 3 months or more. These employees would not get “termination of assignment” pay if they were placed in a new contract within a week.

The government also hopes to introduce two (2) days of paid leave of absences and eight (8) days of unpaid personal emergency leave. This leave would cover personal illnesses, injuries and medical emergencies (for both the employee and his or her close relatives) and situations of sexual or domestic violence. Employers can request reasonable evidence of the employee’s entitlement to take the leave.

It will also become less burdensome to file a complaint under the ESA. Previously, employees who felt their minimum standards were being breached needed to first notify their employer before making a complaint. This requirement would be removed under the new bill. The Director (the person who enforces the ESA) will also be allowed to collect security for any amounts owing under the ESA. Notices of contravention and Recognitions would be able to be widely publicized, despite privacy laws.

Alcohol servers and others would be happy to know that the government has created a more specific definition of what constitutes a “tip” in order to prevent employers from stealing tips meant for their employees.

The field of labour and employment law is becoming very complex for both employees and employers. It is important to seek out an experience labour and employment lawyer who knows not only the current law, but changes on the horizon.

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