Employment and labour law change dynamically through case law and legislation, and recent reforms within Ontario have taken employers by storm. These changes entitle employees to higher levels of benefits than previously known.
On November 27, 2017, Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017 (the “Act”) received Royal Assent, significantly amending Ontario’s Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”), Labour Relations Act, 1995 (“LRA”), and the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”). Whereas the ESA amendments consist of different coming into force dates to which both employers and employees must pay attention, all LRA amendments will come into affect on January 1, 2018, or have already come into affect on assent.
The Act will have a considerable effect on both employers and employees, in unionized and non-unionized industries.
Changes in Employment Law
Within the context of provincial employment laws, the Act aims to improve employee entitlements related to the quality of life.
Amendments to parental leave have already come into force on December 3, 2017, to coincide with changes to Employment Insurance (“EI”) parental, maternity and caregiving benefits coming into force. These parental leave changes will address when the leave must commence and end to account for the increase in leave period.
Changes to critical illness leave have also come into force on December 3, 2017, entitling employees to take up to 17 weeks of leave per year to care for a critically ill adult family member.
Starting on January 1, 2018, employees will be entitled to a revamped minimum wage of $14.00/hour, with an expected increase to $15.00/hour by 2019. Also, employees with at least five years of service with an employer will be entitled to an increase in vacation pay to 6%, as well as three weeks of vacation time.
The Act addresses absences, scheduling, “equal pay for equal work”, and even introduces a new form of leave for employees who have experienced domestic and sexual violence. From an employee’s perspective, the Act no doubt constitutes a positive change to current employment standards.
However, any employment relationship always involves an employer on the other side. Given employees’ new legal rights, employers must tread even more carefully to ensure they have complied with the revised laws. In fact, beginning January 1, 2018, employers guilty of violating employment standards may be subject to public condemnation for their actions, or lack thereof.
Currently, the Act expressly prohibits employers from misclassifying employees as independent contractors.
Also, employers will need to be mindful of complying with wage increases, fulfilling their increased record-keeping requirements, and accepting their employees’ extended family medical leaves and personal emergency leaves (some of which are paid).
Employers should be alert not only to the new legal obligations imposed by the Act but the gradual schedule upon which each change will come into force. Employers should review all internal policies, guides, and codes in light of these changes.
Changes In Labour Law
Changes to the LRA are focused more on union rights and procedures.
Unions and unionized employees will enjoy greater rights. One of the most significant changes to the LRA requires employers to reinstate employees after a legal strike or lock-out, subject to certain conditions.
In addition, employees in a bargaining unit will be protected from employer discipline and from being discharged without just cause during two periods: 1) between certification and the date into which the first contract is entered, and 2) between the date they are in a legal strike or lock-out, and the date into which the new collective agreement is entered.
Amendments to the rights and processes behind union certification provide unions with more flexibility, better access to first contract arbitration, as well as the right to employee lists.
As with changes made in the realm of employment law, the above is not a definitive or final list of all amendments to be expected.
What Does It Mean For You?
Whether you are an employer or employee, you may want to consider how the foregoing changes apply to your own circumstances. Such changes may require, for example, amending your employment contracts, or paying heed to the fines you may incur for violating new laws.
If you are an employee, consider the changes and contact us if you think your employer is not respecting the new amendments to the ESA or other workplace legislation.
If you are an employer, you will likely have to amend your policies and contracts to account for the changes that mandated by the Act. We encourage you to reach out for an assessment of these required changes to ensure your company complies with the changing legislation.
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