How workplace laws are changing in Ontario

Aug 2, 2017

Over the past two years a provincially commissioned research study referred to as the Changing Workplaces Review was conducted on Ontario labour and employment standards. The purpose of the review was to “better protect workers while supporting businesses”. This research study culminated in a final report which proposed over 173 amendments to the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) and the Labour Relations Act, 1995 (LRA).

In response to this report, the Ontario government introduced proposed legislation, entitled the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017, which aims to introduce into law several of the amendments recommended in the report. The most newsworthy amendment is a proposed increase in minimum wage for a large number of employees to $14/hr effective January 1, 2018 and another increase to $15/hr effective January 1, 2019.

The Changing Workplaces Review Process

One of the Ontario government’s economic priorities was to review the changing nature of the workplace in order to establish laws that reflect the modern workplace.  The last significant changes to the Employment Standards Act and the Labour Relations Act were made in the early 1990s, this is why workplace laws are changing in Ontario. Special advisors C. Michael Mitchell and former Justice John Murray were appointed to begin the review process in 2015. Public consultations were held in 12 Ontario cities, and an Interim Report initially uncovered over 50 issues within the current labour and employment acts.

Following the Interim Report, Mitchell and Murray met with a number of groups and individuals and reviewed over 280 written responses to the report.

The Changing Workplaces Review Summary Report     

The final report addressed changes to the current legislation, strategic enforcement of litigation of claims, administration of various programs and enforcement procedures.

A number of upfront recommendations were made including the creation of a “Workplace Rights Act.” This Act would address employee rights in one Act instead of over three pieces of existing legislation (the Occupational Health and Safety Act, ESA and LRA).

The report also outlined specific recommendations for changes related to the ESA and LRA.

Recommendations on Employment Standards Act

  • Raise the minimum wage to $15
  • Vacation entitlement increased to 3 weeks after 5 years of employment
  • Remove requirement for Ministry to approve overtime hours between 48-60
  • Personal emergency leave available to all Ontarians and the 50-employee threshold eliminated. Employers to pay for requested doctor’s notes.
  • Differential pay limited for part-time, casual, contract, seasonal and temporary employees

Recommendations on Labour Relations Act

  • A number of groups excluded from collective bargaining should be covered including domestics, members of dental, legal or medical professions, agricultural and horticultural employees.
  • Secret ball vote system preserved
  • New rules for first contract negotiations this includes access to a mediation or arbitration process
  • Electronic voting and membership evidence

Bill 148: the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017

The proposed Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017, looks to legislate many of the changes proposed in the Changing Workplaces Review Summary Report. A large focus of the proposed legislation is aimed at increasing the rights available to employees across Ontario, expanding the rights which are currently available and even proposes a to start a program geared toward educating employees and small to mid-sized businesses about their rights and obligations.  

Though the changes outlined under the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017 are not yet law, the changes are due in the near future.  We encourage employers and HR to become informed by reviewing the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017 or connect with a member of Chown Cairns Employment Law group below to review how the changes will impact your own business.