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Jun 1, 2017

Big Changes are Coming for Ontario Workplaces! Ontario Government Announces Intent to Amend Employment Standards Act

By Michael F. Horvat and Meghan A. Cowan

On May 30, 2017, the Ontario government announced its intention to introduce new workplace legislation, The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017, which would significantly amend Ontario’s existing Employment Standards Act, 2000 and the Labour Relations Act, 1995.  

The proposed legislation is part of the government’s first concrete step towards implementing several of the recommendations listed in the Ministry of Labour-commissioned ‘Changing Workplaces Review,’ which was only issued on May 23.

Below is a summary of the major employment standards changes proposed by the government:

  • Minimum Wage Increases: $14 per hour on January 1, 2018 and $15 per hour on January 1, 2019 (with similar, but reduced, increases for student minimum wage). The current minimum wage for most employees is $11.40 per hour.
  • Paid Vacation: Three weeks of paid vacation after five years of service with the same employer. The current minimum standard is two weeks of vacation per year.
  • Equal Pay for Casual, Part-time, Temporary & Seasonal Employees, and for Temp Help Agency Employees: Casual, part-time, temporary and seasonal employees would be required to be paid equally to full-time employees when performing the same job for the same employer.
  • Public Holiday Pay: A simplified formula for calculating public holiday pay so that employees are entitled to their average regular daily wage.
  • Scheduling: Employees granted the right to request schedule or location changes after having been employed for three months without fear of reprisal and the ability to refuse to accept shifts without repercussion if their employer asks them to work with less than four days’ notice.
  • Call-in and On-Call Pay: Three hours pay at regular rate as a minimum for employees who are called into work or have to be “on call” but are not called into work.
  • Paid Emergency Leave: Current personal emergency leave (PEL) provisions would apply to all workplaces (not just those with 50 or more employees). Employees would be entitled to 10 PEL days per year, with two paid PEL days. 
  • Protected Leaves: Increases for job-protected leave in the event of a death of a child and for crime-related disappearance and family medical leave.
  • Physician Notes for Absences: Employers would be prohibited from requesting a sick note from an employee taking a PEL day. 
  • Independent Contractors: Contractors presumed to be employees, with penalties for misclassifying employees as independent contractors.

Also included are significant labour relations changes, including:

  • Card-Based Certification for the building services sector and the temporary help agency, home care and community services industries. This means no vote!
  • Remedial Certification by the labour board made easier where the employer has engaged in misconduct.
  • First Contract Arbitration: faster, with access to “intensive” mediation process.
  • Employee Contract Information: Unions to be granted access to employee lists and certain contact information when they demonstrate 20% support.

The proposed legislation would undoubtedly affect employers reliant on temporary, part-time and contract help, as well as impact the bottom-line wage costs for many Ontario companies and business sectors. The changes would be supported by the hiring of up to 175 new employment standards enforcement officers.

At this point, the Ontario government has just announced its intention to introduce legislation. Stay tuned for further updates once the draft legislation is released!  

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