Last year I commented on some changes that were brought about by the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017 (i.e. “Bill 148”). The law consisted of a series of amendments to labour legislation in Ontario. The amendments were very favourable to employees, granting them greater protections and benefits guaranteed by the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”). However, with the election of the provincial Conservative government in Ontario, many of these changes have been amended or repealed altogether. In this blog post, I provide some highlights of some major changes that the Conservative government has implemented.
On January 1, 2018, minimum wage increased from $11.60 to $14.00 per hour. A further increase was planned on January 1, 2019 to $15.00; however, that has now been abandoned. Through Bill 47, the Conservative government has maintained the minimum wage at $14.00 per hour until October 1, 2020, when it will be adjusted annually with inflation.
Another major change brought about by Bill 148 was the equal pay for equal work provisions. Bill 148 provided that no employer shall pay an employee at a rate of pay less than the rate paid to another employee of the employer because of a difference in employment status. This was meant to prohibit discrimination based on whether an employee only worked part-time. This has been repealed. Employers may now pay different wage rates based on employment status such as part-time versus full-time.
Through Bill 148, the Personal Emergency Leave entitlements changed in very substantial ways. First, all employees (regardless of the size of the employer) would be eligible for Personal Emergency Leave. Second, the 10-day entitlement would be maintained but employees with at least one week of service were entitled to paid leave for the first 2 personal emergency days; the remaining 8 days would be unpaid. To make things even more difficult for employers, Bill 148 provided that employers would no longer be permitted to require a doctor’s note to verify the reasons for the absence. These amendments have now been repealed. The Personal Emergency Leave provisions have been replaced with three unpaid sick leave days, three unpaid family responsibility leave days and two unpaid bereavement days. Each benefit has a separate criteria for eligibility and employers may ask for a doctor’s note.
Before an employer becomes overly excited about these new amendments, it is worth pointing out that the ESA only defines minimum standards for the employer. The parties are free to contract for benefits greater than what the ESA dictates. In other words, simply because the ESA provides for a lesser benefit, does not automatically mean that all of an employer’s employees are now automatically bound by the new provisions. An employer should consult its internal policies and employment contracts to make sure that they provide only the minimum entitlements guaranteed by the ESA if it would like to reap the benefits of the new amendments.
At Lerners LLP, we provide advice to businesses of all sizes facing this changing legal landscape. Whether it means redrafting employment agreements, or reviewing and revising internal workplace policies, we can provide the assistance that your business needs.