As we reported in a previous blog post that can be found here, the Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, 2014 makes some significant changes to several Ontario statutes. The legislation received Royal Assent on November 20, 2014 and a copy can be found here, but the significant changes include the following:
1. Starting on October 1, 2015, it provides for increases (but not decreases) to the minimum wage under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the “ESA”) based on the Ontario Consumer Price Index. The CPI will be announced by April of each year, with the minimum wage change to come into effect on October 1. This will likely result in the minimum wage changing incrementally every year, creating an additional administrative burden on employers who pay their employees at or near the minimum wage.
2. It eliminates the $10,000 cap on the recovery of unpaid wages through Ministry of Labour Orders to Pay under the ESA. This provision comes into force on February 20, 2015, although the cap still applies to orders made in respect of wages due prior to the date on which the provision comes into force.
3. It requires employers to provide each of their employees with a copy of the most recent poster published by the Ministry of Labour that provides information about the ESA. An employer must provide available translations of the poster if requested by an employee. The poster must be provided to all employees within 30 days of the day on which the provision comes into force, and thereafter (for new employees) within 30 days of the day on which an individual becomes an employee of the employer. This provision comes into force on May 20, 2015.
4. It increases the period of recovery of unpaid wages (i.e. the limitation period) under the ESA to two years, and gives Ministry of Labour inspectors the ability to order an employer to conduct a “self-audit”, whereby it examines its own records to ensure it is in compliance, after which the employer must report back to the officer on the level of compliance. This provision comes into force on February 20, 2015.
5. It expands employment protections to cover all foreign employees who come to Ontario under an immigration or foreign temporary employee program (previously the protections had only been in place for live-in caregivers). This provision comes into force on November 20, 2015.
6. It creates “joint liability” for a temporary help agency and its client for certain ESA violations, such as the failure to pay regular wages, overtime pay, and public holiday entitlements. Although the temporary help agency still has the primary liability, the client is now jointly liable. This provision comes into force on November 20, 2015.
7. It amends the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act to add “temporary help agencies” as a recognized definition, and to assign workplace injury and accident costs to the client of a temporary help agency when an employee is injured while performing work for the agency’s client. This provision will come into force on a future date to be proclaimed by the Lieutenant Governor, so it is unclear when it will take effect.
8. It expands coverage under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to include unpaid co-op students and other unpaid learners, which will give them protections such as the right to know about workplace hazards and the right to refuse unsafe work. This provision came into force on November 20, 2014.
9. It amends the Labour Relations Act, 1995 in respect of the unionized construction industry’s “open period”, to decrease the time when construction workers can change their union representation (or apply to remove their union) from three months before the expiry of the current collective agreement down to two months. This provision comes into force on May 20, 2015.
Particularly in respect of the changes to the ESA, these expanded powers will likely result in an increase in claims made to the Ministry of Labour, as this process is generally cheaper and faster than court-based civil litigation.