On March 20, 2023, the Ontario Government introduced a new Bill, number 79, the Working for Workers Act 2023. This follows previous Working for Workers Acts that introduced important changes to Ontario employment law in 2021 and 2022.

This article looks at the newest changes proposed by the Government.

The previous Working for Workers Acts made significant changes to employment law

In 2021, the Ontario Government introduced the first Working for Workers Act. This piece of legislation made landmark changes to Ontario employment law, including introducing a prohibition on non-compete agreements and requiring larger employers to create a written policy concerning disconnecting from work.

This was followed the year after by the Working for Workers Act 2022. An important new requirement for larger employers that was introduced by this version was the preparation of a written policy with respect to the electronic monitoring of employees. A controversial aspect of the legislation was the creation of the Digital Platform Workers’ Rights Act, which introduced certain rights and protections for digital platform workers. When writing this article, the Digital Platform Workers’ Rights Act has not entered into force.

Bill 79 continues the Ontario Government’s workplace legislative trend

Following on from these two earlier iterations, the next Working for Workers Act is before the Legislative Assembly of Ontario for consideration.

This section summarizes some of the changes proposed by the Government in the new Bill. If it passes legislative scrutiny and is signed into law, it will impact workplace law in Ontario by making certain amendments to the Employment Standards Act.

Proposed change to mass termination rules to include remote workers

As we recently reported, the Employment Standards Act mandates different termination entitlements for employees that are terminated as part of a mass termination event.

To summarize briefly, under section 58 of the Employment Standards Act, a mass termination occurs if an employer terminates the employment of 50 or more employees at the employer’s establishment in a four-week period. Employers must file a form with the Ministry of Labour before giving employees notice of termination. The form also needs to be posted up in the establishment. In addition, statutory notice periods are based on the number of employees terminated rather than their length of service, as is normally the case. The longest notice period applies when 500 or more employees are terminated at 16 weeks’ notice or payment in lieu.

Bill 79 proposes to change the definition of “establishment” from a location at which the employer carries on business to including:

“a private residence of the employer’s employee if the employee performs work in the private residence and the employee does not perform work at any other location where the employer carries on business.”

This would mean that employees that work remotely are included in the count when determining whether an event constitutes a mass termination and are eligible for the extended mass termination statutory notice or payment in lieu.

Finally, the proposed legislation amends the form requirements – in addition to employers notifying the Ministry and posting the form in the establishment, employers will be required to provide the prescribed information to each of the affected employees directly.

Upgraded eligibility for reservist leave

The Employment Standards Act provides for reservist leave, which gives employees that are reservists an unpaid leave of absence from their employment when they are not performing their duties for certain reasons, provided they have been employed for at least three consecutive months. For example, they may be deployed outside Canada or participating in military skills training.

The new Bill proposes amendments that increase the circumstances in which reservists qualify for this leave of absence. Specifically, it also proposes leave for employees in treatment, recovery or rehabilitation for an illness or injury resulting from a deployment or training. It also proposes to reduce the qualifying period from three to two months of consecutive employment.

Increased maximum penalties for various offences

Bill 79 proposes to significantly increase the maximum penalties for various offences, such as:

  • an employer or recruiter convicted of an offence of possessing or retaining property of a foreign national, such as their passport or work permit, under the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act could be hit with a fine of up to $500,000 and/or imprisonment of up to a year if they are an individual, or a fine of up to $1,000,000 if they are a company; and
  • a corporation convicted of an offence under the Occupational Health and Safety Act is liable to receive a maximum fine of $2,000,000 – a proposed increase of $500,000.

The new Working for Workers Act aims to help respond to labour shortages in the province

The Government has described the 2023 version of the Working for Workers Act as necessary to help address labour shortages.

During the second reading speech for the new Bill, the Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development, Monte McNaughton said:

“Ontario is facing a truly historic labour shortage that’s holding back our ambitious plan to build the homes, schools, hospitals, transit and other projects our families need. … That’s why I’m here this morning to proudly talk about our government’s plan to continue our progress with Bill 79, our Workers for Workers Act, 2023. Working with labour leaders and businesses, we’re proposing unprecedented action to keep, attract and equip people to thrive in today’s world of work and power future economic growth.”

Contact Grosman Gale Fletcher Hopkins LLP in Toronto for Advice on Employment Legislation

The employment law framework that applies to Ontario employers is constantly changing. Even leaving aside federal law, there is huge change at the provincial level, for example, through the series of Working for Workers Acts.

The award-winning team of labour and employment lawyers at Grosman Gale Fletcher Hopkins LLP remain on top of these legislative developments. This allows us to place our employer and employee clients in the best position we can to help you with your workplace issue. Please contact us either online or at 416.364.9599 to schedule a confidential consultation.