On March 20, 2023, the Ontario government tabled Bill 79, Working for Workers Act, 2023 (Bill 79) which, if passed, would provide further protections for remote and precarious employees under various employment statutes, including the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) and the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). Below are some of the key proposed changes of interest for employers.
Mass Termination Entitlements Expanded to Include Remote Workers
Pursuant to the ESA, employees are eligible for increased notice of termination or pay in lieu if 50 or more employees are terminated at an employer's "establishment" within a four-week period. Subject to limited exceptions, the period of notice will depend upon the number of employees whose employment is terminated in the applicable period, as follows:
- 50 to 199 employees = at least eight (8) weeks
- 200 to 499 employees = at least twelve (12) weeks
- 500 or more employees = at least sixteen (16) weeks
The definition of "establishment" with respect to an employer currently means a location at which the employer carries on business. If Bill 79 is passed, this will include an employee's private residence if the employee performs work in their residence and does not perform work at another location where the employer carries on business.
This means that employees working remotely would be included in the count for mass terminations and would be eligible for the same level of notice of termination or pay in lieu as their in-office counterparts.
Increased Penalties under the OHSA
Bill 79 would also amend the OHSA to increase the maximum fine for a corporation for a conviction from $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. These changes would give Ontario the highest maximum corporate fines under workplace health and safety legislation in the country.
Increased Protections for Foreign Workers
Bill 79 would establish the highest maximum fines in Canada for employers convicted of taking possession of or retaining a foreign national's passport or work permit. Corporations convicted of withholding passports could be liable to a fine of up to $1,000,000.
Enhanced Military Reservist Leave
Bill 79 proposes amendments that would expand eligibility for reservist leave by broadening the reasons for taking the leave to include taking time off to recover from physical injuries or mental health illnesses resulting from a deployment to a Canadian Forces operation. Additionally, reservists would be eligible for job-protected leave after two months of employment instead of the current three-month requirement.
Takeaway for Employers
Bill 79 expands on legislative changes that the government of Ontario previously passed in 2021 and 2022 providing increased rights for employees and placing new duties on employers.
The changes are set to come into force on the day Bill 79 receives Royal Assent. Our team will continue to track the progress of Bill 79.
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