Changes to Ontario’s labour legislation

There are changes to the Ontario government’s Employment Standards Act which was brought in January 2018 (Bill 148 the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017 ). The new government which was elected in June 2018 has announced changes to the Employment Standards Act taking effect January 1 2019 under Bill 47 the Making Ontario Open for Business Act. Here are some of the new details:

Minimum Wage

The minimum wage was increased to $15 an hour under the previous Employment Standards Act. The general minimum wage will remain at $14 an hour through 2019 and then beginning 2020, annual minimum wage increases will be tied to the consumer price index.

Minimum on-call pay

There was to be a minimum on-call pay which is applicable when an employee is on-call, but is either not called into work or is required to work but for less than three hours, despite the employee being able to work longer. This change had not yet come into effect and has now been repealed by the new legislation.

Right to refuse work

Another section which has been repealed before it was to come into effect is the employee’s right to refuse a request or demand to work or to be on-call on a day they weren’t scheduled if this request is made less than 96 hours before the start of the shift.

Personal emergency leave

The new bill has replaced the previous standards regarding personal emergency leave. The new bill provides three new unpaid leaves of absence available to any Ontario employee regardless of the size of employer.

  • Sick leave up to three unpaid sick days per calendar year where an employee has been employed for two consecutive weeks. This is for the employee’s own personal illness, injury or medical emergency.
  • Family responsibility leave up to three unpaid days each calendar year. This is intended for illness, injury or medical emergency of a listed family member.
  • Bereavement leave up to two unpaid days each calendar year for bereavement leave. This is to be used for the death of a listed family member.
  • Equal pay for equal work

    The former bill expanded equal pay for equal work based on an employee’s employment status (for example permanent vs causal) or based on the number of hours they worked. This included differences in pay for employees placed by a temporary employment agency. The new bill has repealed these changes but continues to require equal pay for equal work on the basis of gender.

    Three hour rule

    The new bill modifies changes to the three hour rule which had not yet come into effect. The new rule applies to an employee who regularly works more than three hours a day who is required to present themselves to work but then works less than three hours despite being able to work longer. The employee would be entitled to be paid wages for three hours – the greater of two amounts:

  • three hours of pay at the employee’s regular rate, or
  • the sum of the amount of the employee earned while working and the remaining time calculated at the employee’s regular rate
  • This does not apply when the employer is unable to provide work due to power failure, fire or other similar causes beyond the employers control.

    Employee classification

    While there remains a prohibition against treating a worker who is truly an employee as someone who is not an employee (generally, an independent contractor), the “reverse onus” has been removed. That is, the onus will shift back to workers, who will be required to prove that they are in fact an employee.

    If an employer has updated their policies to reflect the changes to the employment standards act, the new changes does not automatically reverse these changes. For example if an employer had implemented pay increases to reflect the proposed increase to the minimum wage, a reduction in light of the minimum wage freeze could cause unhappiness among employees.

    It is important to review current policies to ensure compliance to the standards coming into effect.


    Osler -Back to 2017: New Ontario government revokes pre-election employment law changes

    Benefits Canada – A summary of Ontario’s changing employment and labour legislation

    Bennett Jones – Bill 47 Implements Significant Changes to Ontario Employment Standards Legislation

    Employment Standards – Ministry of Labour