Employment Law

Changes Are Coming to Employment Law in Ontario: Part 1 – Is Your Business Ready?

Changes Are Coming to Employment Law in Ontario: Part 1 – Is Your Business Ready?

On May 30, 2017, the Ontario government announced that it will make some major changes to the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the “ESA”), the Labour Relations Act, 1995, and a number of other laws governing employment in Ontario.

Some of the proposed changes announced are:

Raising the minimum wage.

The proposed law would see minimums rise as follows:

  • The general minimum wage will be progressively raised from the current $11.40/hour to $11.60/hour between October 1, 2017 – December 31, 2017, to $14.00/hour in 2018, and $15.00/hour in 2019.
  • Similar increases would apply for students, liquor servers, hunting and fishing guides, and homeworkers.

This is perhaps one of the most hotly debated amendments to the law, as many businesses may have difficulty paying workers more.  Several small business owners I’ve spoken to say that this will reduce plans to hire workers for entry-level jobs.  Time will tell.

Equal pay for casual, part-time, temporary & seasonal employees.

This would permit these types of employees to challenge their level of pay so that it is equal to pay received by full-time employees performing the same job at the same place of work.  A non full-time employee would have the right to seek additional pay by making a complaint to the Ministry of Labour.

 However, there are carve-outs, most notably where the comparable full-time employee is paid more based on a seniority system, merit system, productivity system or any other fact (other than sex or employment status).

 I foresee employers establishing such carve-out systems now to mitigate some of their exposure in the future.  Here’s some additional food for thought: if employers can pay a different rate on the basis of any other factor (aside from sex and employment status), does this whole amendment have any teeth?  Can an employer pay an employee more because they drive a blue car instead of a red car?

What about other areas of discrimination found in the Human Rights Code  besides sex, such as race, ancestry, place of origin, etc?  Maybe the language should be shored up.

Stiffer penalties for non-compliance and greater enforcement measures.

The proposed changes grant the Ministry of Labour expanded enforcement option where employers breach ESA standards, including greater monetary penalties, creating a Ministry of Labour ‘wall of shame’ for businesses issued a penalty, charging interest on penalties, and greater collection powers.  Maria Luisa Vitti has an interesting article on a recent case where the Ministry of Labour charged a business (and its owners) with provincial offences for unpaid fines, and a summary of how these powers will be expanded in the future.

For employers, this should serve as a cautionary tale: if you oppose Ministry of Labour findings, challenge them in the proper venue, don’t ignore them.  For employees who have difficulty collecting from recalcitrant employers, this is a good signal that collections will be yet faster and more successful in the future.

As there are many changes proposed, I am splitting this post into several parts.  You can look out for the next parts on the News & Insights part of this page.

You can view the Ministry of Labour’s press release from May 30, 2017 here, although it is a bit dated as there have been subsequent debates which have lead to amendments.  If you’re into that sort of thing, you can find the amendments here.

Disclaimer: None of the foregoing should be considered legal advice.  If you would like legal advice on anything in this post, contact me here.

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