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December 4, 2014

New Obligations for Employers in Ontario - What Employers Need to Know

Author Hendrik Nieuwland

The Ontario Government’s Bill 18, the Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, 2014 (the “Act”), received Royal Assent on November 20, 2014. The Act makes significant changes to a number of Ontario’s employment-related statutes. Some of the changes came into force immediately on November 20, 2014, while many others will come into force in the coming months.

We have outlined the changes below.

Expanded Application of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”)

  • The OHSA’s definition of the term “worker” was expanded on November 20, 2014, to include unpaid interns and co-op students in secondary or post-secondary school. Employers now owe such students and interns the same health and safety obligations they previously owed to paid employees under the OHSA. Employers failing to provide such protections may now be charged by the Ministry of Labour. 

Shortened Open Period within Construction Industry under the Labour Relations Act, 1995

  • Beginning on May 20, 2015, within the construction industry, the open periods during which unionized employees may apply for decertification of the union, or a new union may apply for certification as the bargaining agent for a bargaining unit already represented by another union, will be shortened from three months to two months.  The open periods in industries other than the construction industry remain three months in duration.

Various Changes to the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”)

  • Beginning on February 20, 2015, the limitation period within which employees must bring unpaid wages claims before employment standards officers (“ESOs”) will be extended from six months to two years, and the $10,000 limit on the amount of unpaid wages that ESOs can order employers to pay will be removed such that there will be no limit going forward. We expect that the removal of the $10,000 cap will dramatically increase the number of claims to ESOs by terminated workers.
  • Beginning on May 20, 2015, ESOs will have the power to order employers to conduct self-audits of the employers’ records and practices to ensure they are complying with the ESA.
  • Employers must provide all current employees as of May 20, 2015, with a copy of the most recent poster published by the Minister of Labour that outlines employees’ rights and responsibilities under the ESA. This must be provided to current employees by June 19, 2015, and must be provided to all new employees going forward. The most recent poster as of the time of writing can be found at the following link:
  • Beginning in 2015, the minimum wage will be increased on October 1 of each year by the rate of inflation. The Government of Ontario will publish the new minimum wage by April 1 each year.
  • Beginning on November 20, 2015, companies (“clients”) that use workers (“assignment employees”) employed by temporary help agencies (“temporary agencies”) will have new legal liability for the wages of assignment employees. Specifically, if a temporary agency does not pay wages owing to an assignment employee, the client for which the assignment employee was working when it earned the unpaid wages will be jointly and severally liable with the temporary agency for such wages. Practically, assignment employees claiming unpaid wages will be able to concurrently bring unpaid wages claims against both their temporary agency and the client for whom they were working.
  • Also beginning on November 20, 2015, temporary agencies will be required to keep records of all hours worked by assignment employees for at least three years. Similarly, every temporary agency client will be required to keep a record of all hours worked by assignment employees on the client’s behalf for three years.

Potential Changes to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (“WSIA”)

  • The Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario now has the power to enact regulations that would change the way that assignment employees are treated under the WSIA. Regulations may be enacted that would effectively treat a client using assignment employees as the employer under the WSIA by attributing the injury, accident costs, resulting increase in WSIB premiums, and WSIB notification obligations to the client. So far, there is no indication that such regulations will actually be enacted.

New Protections for Foreign Workers

  • The Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act (Live-In Caregivers and Others), 2009 is being amended such that it now applies not only to live-in caregivers, but to all foreign nationals who are employed or looking for employment in Ontario pursuant to an immigration or foreign temporary worker program. It also now applies to any employer, recruiter, or agent for employers or recruiters of foreign nationals.
  • Foreign nationals being considered for employment in Ontario must be provided with a copy of Government literature outlining their rights by the recruiter or employer prior to commencing work.
  • The changes to the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act, 2009 (as it will now be named) will come into force on November 20, 2015.
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