Written on behalf of Peter McSherry
On March 20, 2023, the Ontario government introduced Bill 79, the Working for Workers Act (the “Act”). If passed, the Act will amend several pieces of workplace legislation, offering greater protections for precarious and remote workers.
This blog post will provide a general overview of several fundamental changes to the Act and will explain how these changes will impact workers in Ontario.
Third consecutive year of changes to Ontario’s employment laws
If the Act becomes law, 2023 would be the third consecutive year that the Ontario government has amended the province’s employment legislation, as the first iteration of the Act was introduced in 2021. Some of the key changes which were implemented under the first piece of legislation included:
- requiring employers to have a workplace policy on disconnecting from work;
- prohibiting employees from entering into non-compete agreements, except in limited circumstances; and
- requiring the owners of a workplace to grant washroom access to those making deliveries or picking up deliveries.
When the Act was amended in 2022, additional changes were made, including:
- strengthening rights and protections for digital platform workers who provide ride-share, delivery, or courier services;
- requiring employers to provide a naloxone kit in workplaces where opioid overdoses are a potential hazard; and
- clarifying the treatment of IT workers and business consultants under the Ontario Employment Standards Act.
New Amendments Proposed by Bill 79
The Act proposes a number of amendments be made to existing legislation, many of which are set out below.
Remote workers covered by mass termination rules
Under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act (the “ESA”), employers are required to provide employees with increased notice of termination or pay in lieu of notice if 50 or more employees are being terminated at the employer’s “establishment” within the same four-week period. These instances are also referred to as “mass terminations.”
The Act proposes to amend the ESA by changing the definition of “establishment” in this section to include the private residence of an employee if the employee performs work at a private residence and does not work at any other location where the employer carries on business. Effectively, this means that remote workers would need to be included in the count of workers who are being let go in a mass termination scenario. In turn, remote workers would be entitled to the same increased notice of termination, or pay in lieu, as their colleagues who work in the office.
Increased fines for employers who violate occupational health and safety rules
The Act proposes to increase the maximum fine for a corporation convicted of an offence under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act from $1.5 million to $2 million. According to the government, the rationale for this change is to reinforce the importance of putting worker safety first and to further penalize businesses that treat worker injuries like the cost of doing business.
If passed, this amendment would give the province the highest maximum corporate fines under workplace health and safety legislation in Canada.
Expansion to military reservist leave
Ontario’s ESA currently provides job-protected leave for reservists in Canada’s military. The Act proposes to expand eligibility for military reservist leave by making the following changes:
- broadening the acceptable reasons for taking reservist leave to include treatment, recovery or rehabilitation for a physical or mental health illness or injury resulting from deployment to a Canadian Forces operation; and
- reducing the length of service required to be eligible for reservist leave from three months to two months.
Stronger protections for temporary foreign workers
If passed, the Act would amend the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act (the “EPFNA”) to increase the maximum penalties for employers who take possession of a foreign national’s passport or work permit. Under the changes, employers could face the following penalties:
- for individuals, a fine of up to $500,000 or 12 months in prison, or
- for corporations, a fine of up to $1,000,000.
Greater certainty for workers starting a new job
The Act proposes to give the government the ability to introduce new regulations under the ESA requiring employers to provide prospective new hires with written information about their position. Employers would be required to disclose to new employees, in writing, their hours of work, pay, and work location before the employee’s start date.
New licencing requirements for recruiters and temporary help agencies
The Act would amend the ESA to tighten licensing requirements for temporary help agencies and recruiters. Any temporary help agency or recruiter that has collected a fee charged to a foreign national contrary to the EPFNA would be denied a licence or would have their licence revoked.
Credential recognition for international professionals
The Fair Access to Regulated Professions and Compulsory Trades Act would be amended to remove barriers faced by internationally trained professionals seeking to enter a regulated profession in Ontario. This amendment would help loosen the criteria for satisfying the qualification requirements for those with work experience outside Canada.
The government signalled that further amendments may be on the way
In announcing the Act, the Ontario government indicated that it would be proposing further legislative amendments which were not already included in the initial draft of Bill 79. Some of these additional amendments are set out in further detail below.
Removing barriers for women in the construction industry
The government proposes to make skilled trades more accessible to women by introducing regulatory amendments which would require job sites to have at least one women’s-only washroom available. The amendments would also require that women in skilled trades must have access to properly fitting equipment such as boots, uniforms, and safety harnesses.
Expanding cancer coverage for firefighters
The government is proposing regulatory amendments to expand Workplace Safety and Insurance Board compensation for firefighters, fire investigators and their families, by expanding cancer coverage to include thyroid and pancreatic cancers.
Helping students enter skilled trades
To help students enter trade careers, the government also proposes to allow students in grade 11 to transition to a full-time, skilled trades apprenticeship program. Once they receive their Certificate of Apprenticeship, these workers can apply for their Ontario Secondary School Diploma as mature students.
The government is also considering lowering the entry requirements for specific skilled trades that currently require a grade 12 education.
Contact Guelph Employment Lawyer Peter A. McSherry for Advice on Enforcing Your Rights as a Worker in Ontario
The experienced employment law team at Peter A McSherry Employment Lawyer provides thorough, client-focused solutions for a broad range of employment law issues. From wrongful dismissal to workplace human rights, we protect employees’ rights and provide them with the resources and information to help them succeed in enforcing such rights. To speak with a member of our employment law team, contact us at 519-821-5465 or reach out to us online to schedule a consultation.