On October 25, 2021, the Ontario Government introduced Bill 27- Working for Workers Act (2021) (the Act). If passed, it would amend the Ontario Employment Standards Act, 2000 and related statutes, granting novel rights to employees and imposing new obligations on employers.

The COVID-19 Pandemic Disrupted the Labour Market, Creating the Need for Reform

In June 2021, in recognition of the disruption of the labour market caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ontario Minister of Labour Training and Skills Development established the Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee. The Committee’s mandate was to “position Ontario as the best place in North America to recruit, retain and reward workers”. It was directed to make recommendations regarding “the complexities and opportunities caused and/or accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic”. Bill 27 appears to be the result of the Committee’s recommendations.

Bill 27 will Affect Employers Across Industries

Bill 27 proposes sweeping changes to various areas of employment law that will affect organizations across Ontario by:

  1. Requiring employers to let employees turn off their phones and disconnect from work
  2. Putting an end to non-compete agreements
  3. Implementing licensing requirements for temporary help and recruiting agencies
  4. Prohibiting certain regulated professions from requiring internationally trained individuals to have Canadian work experience
  5. Limiting language testing requirements for regulated professions
  6. Allowing delivery workers to use the washroom

Employers Required to let Employees Disconnect from Work

Under the Act, employers with 25 or more employees will be required to implement a written policy with respect to “disconnecting from work”. “Disconnecting from work” is defined as “not engaging in work-related communications, including emails, telephone calls, video calls or the sending or reviewing of other messages, so as to be free from the performance of work”.

Employers will have six months from the date the Act receives Royal Assent to implement the policy and will have to provide a copy of the policy to employees within 30 days of its implementation (or their hiring).

Implementation of such a policy may be a complicated and costly endeavour for organizations with employees that currently work into the evening and weekend or who work on an “on-call” basis. After preparing and disseminating the policy, employers will need to work with employees for successful implementation of the policy and to ensure workplace culture reflects the new legal requirements.

Employers Prohibited from Entering into Non-Compete Agreements

Employers will not be permitted to enter into an employment contract or other agreement with an employee that is, or that includes a non-compete agreement. The Act defines a “non-compete agreement” as “an agreement, or any part of an agreement, between an employer and an employee that prohibits the employee from engaging in any business, work, occupation, profession, project or other activity that is in competition with the employer’s business after the employment relationship between the employee and the employer ends.” 

The only exception is when such an agreement is entered into in the context of the sale of a business or part of a business, following which the seller becomes an employee of the buyer. In that case, an agreement that prohibits the seller from engaging in competitive activities is permitted.

While this appears to be a wholesale change to the law, the reality is that courts are reluctant to enforce non-compete agreements, making them notoriously hard to enforce. Perhaps this amendment will allow the few that remain to be given teeth.

Recruiting and Temporary Help Agencies will Require Licenses

The Ontario Government has stated that many temporary help agencies in Ontario illegally pay employees below the minimum wage and deny them basic rights, and we previously blogged about the Ministry of Labour’s proposed restrictions and licensing requirements for temporary help agencies and recruiters. The Act seeks to protect vulnerable workers by establishing licencing requirements for recruiting and temporary help agencies. Under the Act, the director has the authority to issue, suspend and revoke licences and is required to publish and maintain a records of licensees. Knowingly engaging or using the services of such an agency operating without a licence is also prohibited.

While this amendment has obvious repercussions for recruiting and temporary help agencies and the workers they employ, businesses who use such agencies must also take steps to confirm their licence status on a regular basis to ensure they don’t run afoul of the legislation.

Internationally Trained Immigrants will no Longer be Required to have Canadian Experience

In an effort to reduce barriers to entry for internationally trained immigrants seeking to get licenced in their profession in Ontario, the Act prohibits certain regulated professions from including Canadian experience as a requirement for licensing. Regulated professions include teaching, early childhood education, and engineering, among others.

In addition, the Act allows the Minister to provide information to institutions and employers that deal with internationally trained individuals to support the individuals’ access to regulated professions. The Minister is permitted to make grants to forward this goal.

In a news release on October 21, 2021, the Ontario Government explained that it hopes these changes will help address the “provincewide labour shortage by making it easier for internationally-trained immigrants to start careers in their profession”.

While the changes would not apply to health professionals, the Ontario Government has advised that the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development and the Ministry of Health are considering whether similar changes can be made for health professions.

Testing for Language Abilities will be Limited to Licensing of Regulated Professionals

In order to ensure new immigrants are not required to complete multiple language tests to obtain a professional licence in Ontario, the Act requires regulated professions to comply with regulations respecting English or French language proficiency testing requirements.

Employers Must Provide Washroom Access for Delivery People

Workplace owners must provide access to a washroom for people making deliveries to or from the workplace. Exceptions are made where doing so would pose a risk to health and safety or would be impractical given the nature or condition of the workplace.

Contact GGFH LLP to Understand your Legal Rights and Obligations under the Proposed Working for Workers Act

Bill 27 was carried at First Reading, but there are still many steps before the Act becomes law, including, a period of public consultation.

To discuss how these amendments may affect you or your business, and how to best prepare, contact the seasoned labour and employment lawyers at GGFH LLP in Toronto. Our lawyers have long been at the forefront of employment and labour law and have been recognized as leaders by our peers in Lexpert. We are one of the most recommended labour and employment law firms in Canada. If you need guidance with a workplace-related issue, contact us online or at 416.364.9599.