Temporary workers, unpaid interns and foreign nationals will
soon be better protected under amendments to Ontario's
employment laws. Employees will also be able to recover more of
their unpaid wages from employers without going to court.
The Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act,
2014, received royal assent on November 20, ushering in some
much-needed changes to Ontario's workplace laws. Formerly known
as Bill 18, the Act amends five different labour and employment
related statutes in Ontario, including the Employment Standards
Act, 2000 (ESA) and the Occupational
Health and Safety Act (OHSA).
While there have been some criticisms that the changes don't
go far enough to protect vulnerable temporary workers, the Act
does much to improve employees' ability to claim unpaid wages,
and ties the minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index. Below are
some of the key changes under the new act.
Temporary and Unpaid Workers
Under the previous ESA, assignment employees (those employees
working for temp agencies) had no protections for unpaid wages. The
new Act makes the temp agency and the contracting employer jointly
and severally liable for certain unpaid wages, and introduces
new record keeping requirements for such employees.
Contracting employers must now keep a record of the hours worked by
each temporary employee for three years.
The Act removes the $10,000 cap on what an Employment Standards
Officer can order an employer to pay in unpaid wages, and extends
the limitation period for non-payment complaints from six months to
two years on a going-forward basis.
Furthermore, the minimum wage is to be adjusted in accordance
with an equation based on the Consumer Price Index, to better
accord with the cost of living. Currently in Ontario the minimum
wage is $11/hour, the highest in Canada (along with Nunavut).
Workplace Health and Safety
Importantly for employers who rely on unpaid internships for
some or all of their workforce, the definition of
"worker" in the Occupational Health and Safety
Act is expanded to encompass unpaid high-school and
post-secondary students working for school credit. As a result,
such workers are entitled to OHSA protections, including the right
to refuse unsafe work, and the protections against workplace
violence and harassment.
In an effort to increase awareness of ESA requirements among
employers and employees, the Act also introduces mandatory
self-audits. Employment Standards Officers can compel an employer
to conduct a self-audit of their records and practices to
determine whether they are complying with the ESA and its
regulations. Employers are also required to provide copies of the
most recent Employment Standards informational poster published by
the Minister of Labour, in order to ensure employees are
informed of their rights and obligations.
The Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals
Act will be broadened to apply to every foreign national who
is employed in Ontario or looking for work in Ontario pursuant to
an immigration or foreign temporary employee program; the employers
of foreign nationals in Ontario; recruiters of foreign nationals,
and those who act on behalf of recruiters or employers of foreign
The various provisions and changes under the Stronger
Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, 2014 will come
into force at intervals ranging from 3 months to 2 years from the
date of Royal Assent, allowing employers to make the necessary
changes to their practices before then.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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