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The More Things Change… Ford Government Rolls Back Bill 148

On November 21, 2018, Bill 47—the Making Ontario Open for Business Act, 2018—received royal assent. Bill 47 makes numerous amendments to the Ontario Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA), the Labour Relations Act, 1995 (LRA), and the Ontario College of Trades and Apprenticeship Act, 2009. As outlined earlier, Bill 47 revisits the previous Liberal government’s labour reforms included in Bill 148 and eliminates many of its most controversial aspects.

The effective dates of the changes as outlined in Bill 47 are as follows:

  • The majority of changes with respect to the ESA come into force on January 1, 2019.
  • The changes with respect to the LRA came into force upon royal assent (November 21, 2019).

A summary of some of the significant changes is provided below.

EMPLOYMENT STANDARDS ACT, 2000

  • The scheduled minimum wage increase effective January 1, 2019 is cancelled. The $14.00/hr minimum wage will be maintained and will be re-indexed beginning in October 2020.
  • Equal pay for equal work will be removed on the basis of employment status and assignment employee status. However, the requirement for equal pay on the basis of sex will be maintained.
  • The 2 paid personal emergency leave days will be removed. Personal emergency leave days will be provided up to 8 unpaid days consisting of up to 3 days for personal illness, 3 days for family responsibility, and 2 days for bereavement. Employers will not be prohibited from asking for a certificate from a qualified health practitioner as evidence to support the request for personal emergency leave days.
  • For employees who regularly work more than 3 hours per day but attend work and thereafter work less than 3 hours, the employer will be required to pay wages equivalent to 3 hours of pay.
  • The new scheduling and on-call provisions will be revoked.
  • The reverse onus on employers regarding independent contractors will be repealed.

LABOUR RELATIONS ACT, 1995

  • The ability for trade unions to apply, when there is no certified bargaining agent for the employees, for an order requiring an employer to provide the trade union a list of all employees is revoked. Any applications under this section are immediately terminated and trade unions must destroy any employee lists they have received.
  • The Ontario Labour Relations Board is no longer required to certify a trade union for certain employer contraventions of the LRA.
  • The ability of the Ontario Labour Relations Board to review the structure of bargaining units and grant certain orders in certain circumstances is repealed.
  • The expansion of automatic, card-based certification for industries outside of construction is revoked.
  • Educational support in the practice of labour relations and collective bargaining is revoked.
  • The new first contract arbitration provisions are reversed.
  • Collective agreements will now be publically available on the Government of Ontario website.
  • The increase in fines for convictions under the LRA is reversed.
  • New methods of delivering notices and communications under the LRA are contemplated and corresponding presumptions with respect to receipt of these communications are included in the LRA.

Bill 47 did not repeal the increased vacation benefits nor the new leaves of absence (i.e. Child Death and Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave) which were introduced by Bill 148. Nonetheless, employers throughout the province will likely welcome these amendments which will help eliminate some of the uncertainty that was introduced along with Bill 148.

For those interested, the Ontario Minister of Labour, Laurie Scott, will be the keynote speaker at Dentons Canada LLP’s upcoming Labour, Employment and Pensions seminar on Friday, November 30. For more information regarding the seminar, please click here.

The More Things Change… Ford Government Rolls Back Bill 148

What happens to the pension when the pensioner disappears into thin air?

The Supreme Court of Canada recently agreed to hear an appeal of a Quebec case that deals with the obligations and rights of a pension plan administrator when a pensioner goes missing.

The facts are unique.  A 77-year-old retired university professor went for a walk one crisp autumn day and never returned.  He had been receiving a pension of approximately $7,000 per month from his former employer, Carleton University.  The type of pension that he had chosen to receive was a “life only” pension, meaning it would be paid only to him during his lifetime, with nothing left to his heirs or estate.

A ten-day police search found no trace of him.  When Carleton University found out that he was missing, it wanted to stop the pension payments.  But the professor’s former partner, heir and property administrator objected, pointing to the Quebec law that presumed him to be alive, until he can be declared dead after being missing for seven years.  So the University continued to make the pension payments.

Five years later the professor’s body was discovered in dense woods not far from his home.  A coroner concluded that his death was accidental, and that he had died shortly after going on that fateful walk.

The University had paid almost half a million dollars in pension benefits, from the date he went missing to the date his body was found.  The University wanted that money back.  It sued the professor’s former partner for reimbursement.

A Quebec Superior Court judge, and the Quebec Court of Appeal, agreed with the University.  They said that the University had been correct to continue the monthly pension payments for the five years that the pensioner was missing, because the pensioner was presumed to be alive then.  However, once the date of death was determined, the University was also correct to claim reimbursement of the pension payments that were made after the pensioner died.  The University had a retroactive entitlement to be reimbursed, in circumstances where no one did anything wrong.

The Supreme Court of Canada will have the last word on this sad and interesting case.

What happens to the pension when the pensioner disappears into thin air?

WSIB’s New Rate Framework For Employers

Following policy consultations that took place from August 14, 2017 to January 15, 2018, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB or the Board) announced its new rate framework for employers. This framework will replace current WSIB policies on classification structure, rate setting, and retroactive experience rating on January 1, 2020. As such, employers should take note that there may be a change to how their business is classified and how premium rates are set as of January 1, 2020.

The new framework introduces six (6) core policies to replace the current thirteen (13) that make up the present system.  Notably, the new Employer Level Premium Rate Setting policy replaces current policies on the Merit Adjustment Premium Program, the Construction Industry Plan, and the New Experimental Experience Rating Plan (NEER). In preparing for the new system, employers should note that the severity of workplace accidents (as affected by the length of time that injured employees spend away from work) will become increasingly important for setting premium rates.

According to the Board, the new framework will be simpler and much easier for employers to understand. Additionally, the Board states that the new framework promises predictability and a more accurate reflection of the level of risk that individual employers and industries bring to the system. Under the new model, the WSIB limits an employer’s potential rate increase to a maximum of three risk bands per year. Employers will also be able to access their projected premium rates for future years. Additionally, the rate setting window used to set premium rates has been extended from three (3) or four (4) years to six (6) years. This change will reduce the impact that a single year has on an employer’s premium rate.

Every business registered with the WSIB should receive a letter about premium rates under the new framework later this year. More information on the upcoming rate framework changes can be found here.

Also co-authored by Jessica Hardy-Henry.

WSIB’s New Rate Framework For Employers

Going, Going, (Mostly) Gone: Ontario Conservative Government Announces Targeted Rollback of Bill 148 Amendments to the Ontario Employment Standards Act and the Ontario Labour Relations Act

Earlier today, Premier Doug Ford followed through on his promise to revisit the previous Liberal government’s labour reforms by introducing legislation that eliminates many of the most controversial aspects of Bill 148. The changes include:

  • Minimum wage increase to $15.00/hr effective January 1, 2019 is cancelled – the existing minimum wage of $14.00/hr will be maintained and will be re-indexed starting in October 2020;
  • 2 paid emergency leave days will be removed – personal emergency leave days will now be 8 days consisting of up to three days for personal illness, two days for bereavement, and three days for family responsibilities;
  • The ban on employers requesting doctor’s notes is removed – employers will be able to ask for reasonable evidence from qualified health practitioners in support of an employee’s request for personal emergency leave days;
  • Equal pay for equal work will be removed, on the basis of employment status and assignment employee status. However, the requirement for equal pay on the basis of sex will be maintained.
  • The new scheduling and on-call provisions will be revoked;
  • The reverse onus provision regarding independent contractors will be revoked;
  • The expansion of the automatic card based certification for industries outside of construction will be revoked;
  • The 20% threshold for unions to apply for employee information is gone;
  • The new first contract arbitration provisions will be reversed; and
  • The doubling of fines under the Ontario Employment Standards Act, 2000 will be reversed.

That said, the new legislation preserves employees’ entitlements to the previously announced enhanced vacation benefits as well as the new leaves of absence (i.e. Child Death and Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave).

These changes are likely to be welcomed by employers across the province. In particular, the return to the pre-Bill 148 position on personal emergency leave and scheduling will eliminate a great amount of uncertainty amongst employers. We will be following the progress of this legislation closely and will be providing regular updates as the Bill progresses.

Going, Going, (Mostly) Gone: Ontario Conservative Government Announces Targeted Rollback of Bill 148 Amendments to the Ontario Employment Standards Act and the Ontario Labour Relations Act

Union Certifications: What Employers Need to Know about Union Organizing

Few events can more dramatically impact the way your business operates than the certification of a union.  In its simplest terms, a union certification represents the end of an employer’s 1:1 relationship with its employees, and the start of a collective bargaining relationship in which the union is the voice of employees.

Understanding the way that unions acquire bargaining rights and become certified under the Ontario Labour Relations Act is the first step to effectively managing and responding to organizing efforts in the workplace.

Union Organizing Drives

The goal of an organizing drive is for the union to be certified by the Ontario Labour Relations Board (“the Board”) as the exclusive bargaining agent for all employees in a specified bargaining unit.  In many cases, that bargaining unit is defined as all employees of a particular employer, often within a particular municipality, and will typically identify a number of exclusions.  Most exclusions are determined by the Labour Relations Act, as managers, supervisors and persons above those ranks are excluded, along with persons employed in confidential labour relations capacities.  In general, both unions and the Board favour “all employee” bargaining units, rather than fragmenting a workforce into smaller bargaining units.

In order to be certified as the exclusive bargaining agent for a particular bargaining unit, the union must complete a series of steps set out under the Labour Relations Act.  A drive to collect membership cards is the first step of that certification process.

i. Membership Cards

A union’s first goal in an organizing drive is usually to collect as many signed union membership cards as possible from the employees in the applicable bargaining unit.  Each membership card is signed and dated by an employee and states that the employee wishes to be represented by the union in question.  The union must file signed cards on behalf of at least 40% of the members in the proposed bargaining unit along with an application for certification to the Board.

ii. Application for Certification

Along with the membership cards, the union must file an application to the Board setting out a host of information, including the description of the proposed bargaining unit, the number of employees that the union believes to be employed in that unit, as well as details as to how the Board should conduct a secret-ballot vote of the employees.  Importantly, the membership cards are confidential; at no time will the employer be informed as to the identity of the employees who signed cards.

The application must be served on the employer and filed with Board, and in turn triggers an obligation on the employer to file a response to the application within two (2) business days.  In many cases, an application will be served and filed at the end of day Friday, and an employer will be obligated to respond by the end of the following Tuesday.  The employer’s response must include a detailed list of employees in the proposed bargaining unit (which allows the Board to assess whether the 40% threshold has been met), identify whether the employer agrees or disagrees with the proposed bargaining unit description (and counter-propose a different description if in disagreement), and respond to the union’s proposals on a secret-ballot vote.

iii. Secret-Ballot Vote

The Board reviews the application and response to determine whether the application will proceed, including whether the bargaining unit proposed by the union could be appropriate for collective bargaining, and whether the application is supported by at least 40% of the employees in the proposed unit.  If the statutory criteria are met, the Board will order a vote of all affected employees to occur on the fifth day following the date on which the application was filed.  For example, if an application is filed on a Friday, the Board will typically hold a vote of all affected employees on the following Friday.  This is a very short window of time should an employer be caught flat-footed and unaware of the union organizing campaign!

iv. Success or Failure

The outcome of the vote is determined by a simple majority (50%+1) of those who vote.  For example, if a proposed bargaining unit includes 100 employees, but only 10 show up to vote, if 6 or more of those employees vote in favour of the union, then the union will be certified to represent all 100 employees.  Accordingly, it is critical that as many employees cast a ballot as possible to ensure that the majority of employees determine whether the union’s application succeeds or fails.

Please note that the construction sector in Ontario has specific procedures and rules that differ from the overview addressed above, and include an automatic certification procedure that can result in certification without a vote of employees.  Should you have questions regarding the construction sector we encourage you to contact us directly.

WEBINAR October 17, 2018:

Click here to register for Dentons’ live webinar on October 17, 2018 for further details on union organizing drives, an employer’s rights and obligations during such drives, and potential changes that may be made by the Ford government.  The Webinar will also feature a Q & A discussion.

Union Certifications: What Employers Need to Know about Union Organizing

Bill 148 Webinar Series: What Employers Need to Know about Sexual or Domestic Violence Leave

As part of the overhaul of Ontario’s labour and employment legislation, effective January 1, 2018, employees are now entitled to a new job-protected leave of absence – sexual or domestic violence leave. This statutory leave of absence is part of the government’s effort to end gender-based violence as it requires employers to accommodate eligible employees who require time off for reasons of sexual or domestic violence.

Eligibility:

In order to be eligible for this leave of absence, an employee must have been employed for at least 13 consecutive weeks, and the employee or the employee’s child must have experienced, or been threatened, with sexual or domestic violence. The leave must also be taken for a specific limited purpose, including:  to seek medical attention, to access victim services, to have psychological or other professional counselling, to move temporarily or permanently, or to seek legal or law enforcement assistance.

Length of the Leave of Absence:

There are two lengths of sexual or domestic violence leave which an eligible employee may choose to take within a calendar year: a 10-day period and a 15-week period. The 10-day entitlement may be taken a day (or a part of a day) at a time, and the 15-week entitlement does not have to be taken continuously. Any part of a week taken will be deemed to be one full week. Employees cannot carry over any unused leave time to the following calendar year.

Employer Notification:

An employee must advise his or her employer of his/her intention to use the sexual or domestic violence leave.  If this is not possible, notice must be given as soon as possible after the leave is started. If the employee intends to use his or her 10-day entitlement, notice does not need to be in writing. However, notice that the employee will be taking leave from the 15-week entitlement must be in writing.

Paid/Unpaid Leave:

Employers must pay eligible employees for the first five days of their sexual or domestic violence leave, whether the employee takes leave from the 10-day entitlement or the 15-week entitlement. The remaining days are unpaid. Employers may request evidence “reasonable in the circumstances” of the employee’s entitlement to the leave.  What is reasonable in the circumstances will depend on whether there is a pattern of absences, the duration of the leave, whether any evidence is available, and the cost of the evidence.

Webinar September 19, 2018:

Click here to register for  Dentons’ live webinar on September 19, 2018 for further details on the new sexual or domestic violence leave, including how to calculate time-off and how to calculate pay. The webinar will also feature a Q&A discussion.

Bill 148 Webinar Series: What Employers Need to Know about Sexual or Domestic Violence Leave

“Communications and conduct” of employer’s lawyer regarding sexual harassment investigation were not privileged, could be referred to in Claim, court decides

Over the objections of a company’s employment lawyer, an Ontario court has permitted an employee to refer, in her Statement of Claim for constructive dismissal and bad faith, to the “communications and conduct” of the company’s lawyer in respect of a sexual harassment investigation.

The employee made sexual harassment and bullying allegations against a coworker. The employer investigated and concluded, without speaking with the employee, that the allegations were not substantiated. During this period, the employee was placed on a Performance Improvement Plan.

The employee eventually retained counsel who requested a severance package. The employer then also retained counsel. For a few months, the lawyers communicated by phone and correspondence. They discussed the investigation. The employee’s counsel urged the company to conduct a new or more thorough investigation, which the employer did. The employee then started her constructive dismissal lawsuit and included, in some paragraphs of her Statement of Claim, reference to some of counsel’s discussions and conduct.

The company moved to strike those paragraphs from the Statement of Claim on the basis that the discussions between counsel were “without prejudice” settlement discussions. The Master refused to strike the paragraphs. She held that the discussions and conduct of the company’s lawyer with respect to the harassment investigation did not relate to a “litigious dispute” but rather to the company’s statutory obligation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to investigate the sexual harassment allegations. The sexual harassment investigation report itself was not privileged. Counsel’s conduct during the sexual harassment investigation was “highly relevant and both counsel must have understood its relevance should litigation ensue”. Finally, although the outcome of negotiations between counsel may have led to a severance settlement, and the employer’s lawyer told the employee’s lawyer that she wished to engage in without prejudice settlement discussions prior to sharing any information with him, the communications in relation to the investigation and the PIP were directly relevant to the employee’s claim for constructive dismissal and bad faith.

In the result, the communications between counsel regarding the sexual harassment investigation and the PIP were not “settlement privileged” and were not struck from the employee’s Statement of Claim.

Clayton v. SPS Commerce Canada Ltd., 2018 ONSC 5017 (CanLII)

“Communications and conduct” of employer’s lawyer regarding sexual harassment investigation were not privileged, could be referred to in Claim, court decides

An Employer’s Guide to Privacy in the Workplace

Privacy and data protection concerns are at an all time high. With tech giants under scrutiny for large-scale privacy breaches, much of the recent media attention has focused on companies’ handling of client or consumer personal information. However, looming equally large are concerns regarding employers’ handling (and mishandling) of employee personal information.

Which Privacy Laws Apply to your Workplace?

In Canada, the privacy law landscape is relatively new, but rapidly evolving. In 2000, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (“PIPEDA”) was enacted in order to regulate private sector collection, use and disclosure of personal information in the course of commercial activity. However, PIPEDA has limited application in the employment context as it only applies to federally regulated employers.

British Columba, Alberta and Quebec have enacted privacy legislation for provincially regulated, private sector employers.  However, there is currently no equivalent legislation in Ontario

What have the Courts Said?

In the absence of any privacy legislation that applies to private sector employers in Ontario, the courts have frequently addressed the issue of privacy in the workplace. In a landmark 2012 case, Jones v. Tsige[1], the Ontario Court of Appeal confirmed the existence of the tort of “intrusion upon seclusion”, or invasion of privacy, in Ontario. “Intrusion upon seclusion” can arise as a result of an intrusion into an individual’s highly sensitive information, including financial or health records, sexual practices and sexual orientation, employment information, and diary or private correspondence. The implication is that employees in Ontario are entitled to a “reasonable expectation of privacy” even if they are using employer-provided technology. Unsurprisingly, there have been a number of cases in recent years in which employees have claimed “intrusion upon seclusion” in respect of personal employee information.

Additionally, in the unionized context, some arbitrators have recognized various workplace privacy rights, including drug and alcohol testing, employee surveillance and monitoring, and searches of employee property, although many of these decisions have referenced a collective agreement which specifically addresses these protections.

Best Practices

As federal and provincial privacy legislation and the common law continue to develop in this area, employers can follow a few best practices in order to minimize the risk of privacy breaches:

  1. Implement a detailed privacy policy that clearly defines privacy expectations (e.g. an employer’s right to monitor the use of company email) and ensure that the privacy policy is applied consistently. While provincially regulated employers in Ontario are not required to abide by PIPEDA, the principles outlined in PIPEDA may provide a useful guide for drafting privacy policies.
  2. Do not disclose any personal employee information without first securing the employee’s permission, unless the disclosure is for the purposes of complying with a court order or government mandate.
  3. Limit access to personal employee information to authorized staff.
  4. Ensure that personal employee information is stored securely.

What’s Coming up Next?

Earlier this year, it seemed that provincial privacy legislation was on the horizon for Ontario, when Bill 14, the Personal Information Protect Act, was introduced at a first reading on March 21, 2018. While Bill 14 quickly passed second reading on March 22, 2018 and was referred to the Standing Committee on Justice Policy, it was not enacted prior to the provincial election in June and died on the Order Paper.

Bill 14 mirrored PIPEDA in many respects, however it included specific provisions which would regulate the handling of employee personal information by provincially regulated employers in Ontario. Bill 14 also granted specific enforcement powers to the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario to initiate compliance investigations and audits in the private sector and conduct inquiries and make orders regarding privacy complaints.

While it is yet to be seen whether the Conservative government will re-introduce Bill 14, it is likely that Ontario will enact provincial privacy legislation in the future, as privacy and data protection concerns gain increasing prominence in the workplace. We will be following the development of any potential legislation closely and will publish any updates.


[1] 2012 ONCA 32.

An Employer’s Guide to Privacy in the Workplace

Will your workplace drug policies and procedures go up in smoke? Recreational marijuana becomes legalized in Canada in October 2018

The hype around the legalization of marijuana in Canada is becoming a reality. On June 20, 2018, Prime Minister Trudeau announced the legalization of recreational marijuana effective October 17, 2018, making Canada the first G7 country to legalize marijuana for recreational use. According to Health Canada, the use of marijuana in Canada has increased in recent years.

While the legalization of marijuana has been highly anticipated, employers must ensure that they are prepared for the transition. This involves examining workplace policies to address the use and influence on workers of recreational marijuana in the workplace.

This leads to important questions: do employees now have an absolute right to use marijuana in the workplace, and are employers bound to let them do so?

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) rendered a decision earlier this year regarding the use of medical marijuana in the workplace, in the case of Aitchison v L & L Painting and Decorating Ltd.  Mr. Aitchison worked as a seasonal painter of high-rise buildings, and used marijuana to help cope with this chronic neck and back pain, but never raised the issue of accommodation with his employer. In June 2015, Mr. Aitchison was working on a high-rise building and was observed smoking marijuana on a swing set at the 37th floor. Mr. Aitchison was subsequently dismissed for breaching the employer’s “zero tolerance” smoking policy. Mr. Aitchison contested the termination on the grounds of the employer’s unwillingness to accommodate. There were a number of considerations that weighed in favour of the employer, which were crucial to the decision. The HRTO decided that Mr. Aitchison would never have been prescribed medical marijuana for use at work had his treating physician been aware of the safety-sensitive nature of his job. Moreover, accommodating Mr. Aitchison would have placed an undue hardship on the employer given the safety-sensitive nature of the work he performed. Finally, Mr. Aitchison was aware of the zero-tolerance policy when he breached it. The Tribunal therefore held that the workplace policy was reasonable and non-discriminatory.

The decision confirmed that employees do not have an absolute right to use marijuana, medical or otherwise, in the workplace, and employers still have the right to implement policies, so long as they consider their duties regarding accommodation under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

The legalization of recreational marijuana will not give employees the right to freely use marijuana in the workplace or to be under its influence. Employees are still expected to show up to work sober and to be able to safely complete their assigned tasks.  Where the use of marijuana has an adverse impact on job performance, employees may still be subject to disciplinary measures.

Want to know more? Please feel free to contact Matthew Curtis or any other team member in our Labour and Employment group.

This article was co-authored by Daniela Acevedo, a summer student in the Toronto office.

Will your workplace drug policies and procedures go up in smoke? Recreational marijuana becomes legalized in Canada in October 2018

What a PC Government Means for Workplaces in Ontario

Over the past 15 years under a majority liberal government, workplaces in Ontario saw many employment and labour law reforms. Most recently, the liberal government introduced Bill 148 which made significant changes to the Employment Standards Act, 2000 and the Labour Relations Act, 1995, among others.

When Ontario went to the polls on June 7th, voters elected a PC majority government.  Given this result, Ontarians can expect to see many more changes to employment and labour laws, including changes and rollbacks to those laws introduced under Bill 148.  But, what does Doug Ford leading a PC majority government mean for workplaces in Ontario?

As we await the Throne Speech setting out the government’s priorities, it remains unclear how the new PC government will proceed with its employment and labour agenda.

What is certain, however, is Doug Ford’s promise not to follow through with the Liberals’ planned increase to the minimum wage rate, which is set to increase to $15.00 per hour on January 1, 2019.  The PC government will freeze minimum wage at its current rate of $14.00 per hour. This may be history repeating itself after the PC government previously froze minimum wage between 1996 and 2003.

Although Doug Ford has weighed in on freezing minimum wage, he has yet to weigh in on any other employment and labour reforms. Uncertainty will remain until the premier-designate takes office.

Ontarians may also see changes to the Pay Transparency Act, given that the PC government voted against this legislation during the last legislative session.  The Pay Transparency Act was introduced by the liberals to increase transparency in hiring processes and to implement pay disclosure measures.  The legislation is to come into effect on January 1, 2019, until further notice by the PC majority.

Stay tuned for further updates.

What a PC Government Means for Workplaces in Ontario