Ontario Passes Significant Employment Law Reforms

By Roy Maurer Nov 11, 2014

Ontario employers will face more accountability under a bill passed unanimously by the province’s legislative assembly Nov. 6, 2014.

The Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act will “help protect vulnerable workers, including those who earn minimum wage, do temporary work, and work as temporary foreign workers,” the Ministry of Labour said in a statement. The provisions will come into effect within one year of Royal Assent, which is expected shortly.

The act amends the following five statutes:

The Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act

The legislation extends the protections of the act to all foreign workers in Ontario under an immigration or temporary foreign employee program. Previously the act only protected live-in caregivers. Foreign nationals who are temporarily employed in Ontario would be protected from charges for services or costs incurred by an employer or recruiter unless legally prescribed; from property, passport or work permit retention by an employer or recruiter; and from any reprisals for exercising legal rights.

The Employment Standards Act

The legislation alters the standards act in a number of ways. Employers that rely on contingent labor will need to be aware of the amendments to this law especially. Most notably, these employers will be jointly and severally liable, along with the temporary help agency, for any unpaid wages, including overtime and holiday pay.

The amendments to the Employment Standards Act:

  • Require temporary staffing agencies and host employers to record and keep an hourly work record for every temp worker for three years.
  • Require employers to provide their employees with a copy of the most recent informational poster published by the Ministry of Labour and also to provide available translations of the poster if they are requested.
  • Peg the minimum wage to the Ontario Consumer Price Index. The minimum wage would be announced each year in April and come into force in October.
  • Require employers to conduct self-audits for compliance with the law at the government’s request.
  • Remove the $10,000 cap on wages an employment standards officer could award to an employee owed by an employer.
  • Increase the period of time that an employee may claim wages from six months before the complaint to two years before the complaint.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act

The legislation extends coverage under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to unpaid students and unpaid interns, giving them the right to know about workplace hazards and the right to refuse unsafe work.

The legislation also makes changes to the Labor Relations Act and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act.

Next Steps for Employers

Jennifer Heath, an attorney with Rubin Thomlinson, based in Toronto, advised employers to review their policies and practices to confirm that they reflect the new laws and ensure that they communicate these changes to their employees and in particular, their managers.

“Employers should prepare for the changes that may arise from the ban on charging recruitment fees and the elimination of the cap on wage orders, which could result in changes to their ability to recruit employees and the types and amounts of unpaid wage claims they are subject to,” she said.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him at @SHRMRoy

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