Minimum Wage Protection

Written on behalf of Peter McSherry
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Unpaid Interns

Ontario law requires interns be paid the minimum wage sums as set out in the Employment Standards Act. There are, however, a few exceptions to this rule. Internship programs which are part of vocational training in which the work performed will provide a meaningful benefit to the student is excepted. This requires some degree of scrutiny as work done by the intern is not permitted to be replacing an existing employee.

The general rule is the Employment Standards Act does not apply to a person who works under an intern program which has been approved by a college of applied arts and technology or a university.

Employers are prohibited from unfairly classifying employees as interns. If an employer does so, an intern, an employment standards officer can order the employer to comply with the ESA, issue a notice of contravention and/or prosecute the employer.

Human Rights

In one case[1], not a pure intern fact situation, but similar, an employer paid persons with development disabilities an “honorarium” of $1.25 per hour, while it paid the remainder of its workforce the minimum wage sum required by the ESA. The Human Rights Tribunal found this to be adverse treatment due to a disability and ordered back wages and $15,000 damages for personal humiliation.


The Federal government announced some years ago that it would amend its legislation to take similar measures but nothing has been done to date, although the promises to do so continue.

Federal law applies to employees working in federally regulated businesses, such as television and radio broadcasting, inter-provincial trucking, railroads, public harbours, banking and the federal government itself, to name the more significant sectors.


If you are not being paid the minimum wage sums or provided other statutory protections offered by the ESA, get legal advice. If you are treated adversely because you have complained about this issue, you may be entitled to a claim for moral damages. If you have been terminated as a reprisal, you may be entitled to back pay and reinstatement.

Let Legal Advice be Your Guide

If you have questions about your entitlement to the protections of the ESA, including minimum wage or reprisal, contact the offices of Guelph employment lawyer Peter McSherry. We can guide you through the issues, help you understand your rights, and defend your position. Contact us online or by phone at 519-821-5465 to schedule a consultation



[1] Garrie v Janus Joan