Changes to Ontario’s labour laws and what it means for the average ‘worker’

Ontario’s labour laws

Ontario’s labour laws

Ontario’s Liberal government has received recommendations on how to make the largest reform to Ontario’s Labour Laws and the Employment Standards Act (ESA) since 2000. So how will these changes affect the workplace?

Brian Greenspan, an employment lawyer, said that the proposed changes will have ramifications for part-time employees, independent contractors and people in managerial roles.

Having nearly a decade working with a human resource consulting company, he went on to say that the changes will afford more protections to employees regarding termination pay, overtime worked and several other requirements. Bill 148 includes new laws that create a safe environment and provide a livable wage.

The changes being recommended are to ensure that the ESA covers a larger scope of ‘workers’ in Ontario’s workforce. Not just a hired employee. Instead, they’ll also benefit individuals who work casually, or on contract.

“If they’re going to expand the scope of the ESA to apply to not just employees but to workers more generally – independent contractors, dependent contractors – I think that it favours the ‘worker.’”

“Some of the recommendations that I’ve seen tabled are certain to expand the breadth of the act, and who it applies to,” Greenspan noted. “I’ve seen them discuss the concept of a dependent contractor who currently falls outside the scope of the ESA but now, depending on what is ultimately passed, the employment standards contained within the act might now apply to a larger group of ‘workers.’”

However, these changes would be a step in the right direction for hired employees, both full and part-time. Over 200 changes are recommended to be made to the existing laws to now include:

  • mandatory sick pay,
  • a shifted overtime threshold (from 44 hours to 40),
  • an increase from the current minimum vacation pay (from two weeks to three),
  • eliminating the lower minimum wage for students under 18 and people who serve alcohol,
  • and easier access to unionization.

One topic that has specific focus in the recommended reform is termination without cause for employees of the province. Greenspan said that within Ontario, and most provinces across the country, an employee can be terminated at any time for any reason.  

“With some of the recommendations that are currently before the Liberal Government, there are suggestions that employers look at termination for cause only. I mean, that will be certainly one significant change for employees currently in Ontario.”

A reform for the ESA would help encourage employers to be more conscious of their obligations to employees, and of those employee’s rights.

“I don’t want to speak so broadly in terms of what all employers might be, and might not be aware of. I think some are well aware of their respective rights and obligations under the act, but I think others are less informed and less knowledgeable.”

Greenspan continued saying that a lacking awareness of the obligations stems from not having knowledge on the ESA or not having a background in human resources.

Ultimately, these proposed changes are long overdue. The protections offered for part-time employees, contract workers and domestic workers will take the ESA at its current state, as an umbrella act aiming to cover every worker as if they were the same, and change it to accommodate for a shifting workforce.

Matthew Whittemore is a freelance writer and editor who is working alongside Hummingbird Law. Starting as an intern with the firm in 2017, Matthew has become one of the voices for the firm's corporate digital content.

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