Highlights from Ontario’s Labour Law Review (Bill 148)

What Ontario employers need to know

Table of Contents

Last updated January 4th, 2018.


Rumours and debates about Ontario’s changing labour laws have been swirling since the Liberal government announced plans to ‘overhaul’ employment legislation for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Today, we finally have a clearer picture of what to expect. Increased minimum wage, more paid vacation time and stricter penalties for non-compliance are among the dozens of changes proposed under the ‘Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017,’ also known as Bill 148.

[Update: a detailed summary of implemented changes under Bill 148 can be found here.]

So just what can Ontario employers expect, and how might this affect both their businesses and their employees? Here are some of the top changes to come from the Ontario workplace review:

$14 an hour minimum wage (in effect January 1, 2018)

The Ontario Government plans to increase the current general minimum wage from $11.40 an hour to $14/hr in January 2018, and $15/hr by January 2019.

The special minimum wage rates for students, liquor servers, and homeworkers will also increase by the same percentage as the general minimum wage, meaning students under 18 will earn $14.10 by 2019, and homeworkers will receive $16.50.

Equal wages for part-time, casual, and temporary workers (in effect April 1, 2018)

One of the primary objectives of the new rules is to better reflect today’s workforce. This includes acknowledging the surge in part-time and contract work across Canada.

To ensure equal wages and pay for all, Ontario is proposing that part-time, casual, temporary and seasonal employees receive the same pay as full-time colleagues doing the same work. (At the moment, this does not include offering the same benefits and pensions.) Casual, part-time, temporary and seasonal employees will be allowed to ask their employer to review their rate of pay if they believe they’re not receiving the same rate of pay as full-time/permanent employees who perform substantially the same work.

More paid vacation (in effect January 1, 2018)

After five years with the same employer, the minimum vacation entitlement will increase from two weeks to three weeks per year. Vacation pay provisions will also increase correspondingly, from 4% to 6%.

More accessible emergency and personal leave (in effect January 1, 2018)

When it comes to paid time off, vacation isn’t the only consideration. Emergency and personal leave are critical to employees’ well-being, and could soon be more accessible to more employees.

Under the new Bill, all employers must give their employees 10 unpaid personal emergency leave (PEL) days per year, including two paid days if the employee has been employed for one week or longer (7 days). Previously, only employers with more than 50 employees had to follow this rule.

Domestic or sexual violence leave (in effect January 1, 2018)

An employee who has been employed for at least 13 consecutive weeks will be entitled to up to 10 individual days of leave and up to 15 weeks of leave if the employee or their child experiences domestic or sexual violence or the threat of domestic or sexual violence. The first five days of leave, each calendar year, will be paid, the rest will be unpaid.

No more sick notes (in effect January 1, 2018)

Doctor’s notes are a burden on productivity and health. They clog the healthcare system, are expensive, and put vulnerable employees at further risk of illness infection.

The new Ontario legislation prohibits employers from requiring a sick note, plain and simple.

Fair Scheduling (in effect January 1, 2019)

Uncertainty in scheduling practices causes undue stress, financial hardship, and makes work more precarious. To resolve this, the government is proposing new scheduling rules to be put in place by 2019:

  • Employees will have the right to request schedule or location changes after having been employed for three months, without fear of reprisal.
  • Employees can refuse shifts without repercussion if their employer asks them to work with less than four days’ notice
  • If a shift is canceled within 48 hours, employees must be paid three hours at their regular rate
  • When employees are “on-call” and not called to work, they must be paid three hours at their regular rate of pay

What it all means

According to labour-law experts C. Michael Mitchell and John Murray, who penned the 419-page Changing Workplaces Review, these changes are meant to benefit workers directly, as well as employers and society in general.

“Employees will benefit from a better workplace and an enhanced ability to assert their basic rights. Employers will benefit from happier and more productive workplaces and from more robust enforcement. Better enforcement will help to ensure that employers that play by the rules do not experience unfair competition from those that do not. […] All parties will benefit from a better knowledge and understanding of basic rights and obligations.”

Though there are still many changes to come in the plan for fair workplaces and better jobs (Bill 148), 2018 represents a major step towards bringing Ontario’s Employment Standards up to date with recent economic and labour shifts.

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