An Employment Lawyer’s Take on the New Employment Standards Act, 2000

As the most comprehensive changes come forth, its important to know the rules and regulations that can keep organizations and its employees risk-free.
Verity International
June 18, 2019

“What intrigues me the most is how much people don’t know and how much people assume they know”. Cynthia Ingram sat down with Verity after presenting to a group of HR professionals on the New and Old Employment Standards at our breakfast event.

Cynthia has been practicing employment law for nearly 15 years and currently holds a senior lawyer position at Piccolo Heath LLP. Ingram’s primary focus is on human resources, and employment related matters.

The Ontario legislation is constantly changing the rules and “employers need to stay educated”. Cynthia’s primary goal as an employment lawyer is to ensure employers are well equipped with the knowledge that is necessary to avoid litigation. As a best practice, Cynthia suggests that employers and HR teams alike read at least one rule every day to promote education around the workplace. In this piece, Cynthia will discuss some of the significant changes relating to Bills 148, 47, and 66 between 2018 and April 2019, and share some common areas of misconceptions made by employers.

Bill 148

A new addition to Bill 148 is the Personal Emergency leave which is now available to all employees. This change allows the employee to have three unpaid sick leave days, three unpaid family responsibility leave days, and two unpaid bereavement leave days. Employers should know that employees must be employed for at least two weeks to be entitled to these leaves. For more information on this bill, visit the Ontario Legislature website.

The rules surrounding leaves of absences have become more prevalent for employers in recent years. At a glance, the new amendments made to Bill 148 reveal that the topic of mental health in the workplace is taking precedence. Making an investment in employee wellbeing comes with an added benefit of long-term cost savings: on average, mental health issues cost almost $1,500 per employee every year (Ontario Chamber of Commerce).

Bill 47

A crucial change for Bill 47 is the “three-hour rule”. If an employee who regularly works more than three hours a day is required to present him or herself for work but works less than three hours, the employer will pay the employee wages for three hours.  

Furthermore, Cynthia recommends examining Bill 47, which had anticipated to increase minimum wage on January 1, 2019. This change did not take effect and minimum wage will remain at $14 per hour until October 1, 2020. As an employer, if you are unsure about how to proceed when projected changes do not take effect, it is best to use with caution or consult an expert for advice. This will help you analyze the sensitive situation and could help mitigate risk. For more information on this bill, visit the Ontario Legislature website.

Bill 66

On April 2, the Ontario legislation passed Bill 66, which will make additional changes to the Employment Standards Act, 2000. Bill 66 has removed the ministerial approval for employers if they want their employees to work more than 48 hours a week. In this case, averaging agreements are the norm and, Cynthia adds, if any agreement was made before the Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, 2019 received Royal Assent, it is deemed to have met the requirements. For more information on this bill, visit the Ontario Legislature website.

These are the most comprehensive changes that have been made to the Employment Standards Act yet and are not to be taken with a grain of salt. Cynthia suggests that employers review their policies annually, and “do not wait for the government to come in and change existing policies”. In addition, when it comes to staying up to date on the latest news, Cynthia’s best kept secret is to follow social media accounts of law firms and ministries of labour. They, in her opinion, are updated regularly. Finally, her most important tip for Employers and HR teams is to be prepared for change and when in doubt, consult an expert to avoid Employment Standards Act contraventions and associated penalties.

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