Employment Law in the Ford Era: A Look at Ontario’s Recent Employment Law Changes

Written by on June 24, 2019 in Employment Law Blog, Employment Law Issues
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Ontario’s employment law regime has undergone a dizzying number of changes in the past couple of years. For employers and employees alike, it has been a confusing time, and many are unsure of their responsibilities and rights.

Here we take a look back at some of the recent changes to Ontario’s employment law landscape, and clarify where we are now.

In November 2017, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017, or Bill 148, was passed into law, bringing dramatic, largely employee-friendly amendments to the Employment Standards Act and the Labour Relations Act. Bill 148 was notable for introducing a new parental leave program and expanding personal emergency leave. The law was also a victory for women’s rights, amending the Occupational Health and Safety Act to ban mandatory high heels for women in most industries.

Some of these changes came into force soon after the law was passed, while others –including increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour—were scheduled to come into effect in January 2019.

The following year, however, Ontario’s new Premier Doug Ford announced that his government would be getting rid of Bill 148, in order to make the province more “competitive”.

In October 2018, the Making Ontario Open for Business Act, 2018, or Bill 47, was introduced. Bill 47 would repeal many provisions of Bill 148, most notably keeping the minimum wage at $14. Bill 47 became law in November 2018.

As we discussed in “Open For Business – How Bill 47 Replaces Bill 148”, Bill 47 amended Bill 148 to reduce employee entitlement to three unpaid sick days, three additional unpaid sick days for illnesses/emergencies relating to family members, and two unpaid bereavement days. Further, under Bill 47, there is no prohibition on the requirement of medical documentation to support absences: if it is “reasonable in the circumstances”, an employer may require an employee to provide a medical note when the employee is taking a sick leave.

In addition to the changes brought about by Bill 148 and Bill 47, we now have to contend with Bill 66, or the Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, which was passed in April of this year. Bill 66 amended the Employment Standards Act, the Labour Relations Act, and the Pension Benefits Act.

Among other things, this controversial law will make it easier for employers to have employees work longer hours. Previously, once an employer and employee agreed to exceed the maximum forty-eight hours of work per week, they also had to obtain approval from the director of employment standards. Under Bill 66, that is no longer required.

Employees who work more than forty-four hours in a week are entitled to overtime pay on the hours beyond the forty-four. Bill 66 allows for overtime averaging, whereby the parties can agree to average the hours worked over up to four weeks. For example, an employee who works thirty-five hours in one week and fifty the next would be entitled to six hours of overtime for the second week. However, if they agree to average the hours worked, then overtime pay would not be required. As with excess hours, the approval of the director of employment standards for overtime averaging is no longer required.

As we explained in “Employment Standards Poster“, employers were required to post the Employment Standards poster, which sets out employee rights, in a conspicuous location in the workplace. Under Bill 66, employers are still required to provide employees with a copy of the poster when they are hired, but the posting requirement has been eliminated.

While the largely employer-friendly new law removes some formalities for implementing agreements for employees to work excess hours or to have their hours averaged over several weeks for purposes of overtime entitlement, Bill 66 still requires the employee’s agreement.

Most of the changes under Bill 66 are already in effect, except for those under the Labour Relations Act. Please contact us for more detailed information about the new law and how it might affect your rights and responsibilities in the workplace.

Minken Employment Lawyers is your source for expert advice and advocacy on today’s employment law issues. Whether you are an employer or an employee, we can help. Contact us to see how.

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