Author: Kyle Stout, Articling Student, Nelligan O'Brien Payne LLP
On December 4, 2013, the Ontario government introduced Bill 146, the Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act. It is omnibus legislation that proposes amendments to several key employment statutes, including the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the "ESA"). Bill 146 must still pass second reading prior to receiving Royal Assent. However, the proposed changes to the ESA are, at least in introductory form, positive for employees. For example, Bill 146 introduces a number of new protections for employees under the ESA, particularly for historically vulnerable temporary employees.
Bill 146 proposes the following amendments to the ESA:
- Removes the $10,000 cap on the recovery of unpaid wages owed through a Ministry of Labour order to pay. This means that subject to effective enforcement, employees would no longer be required to pursue larger wage claims through the courts.
- Extends the six and twelve month time limits on the recovery of wages under the ESA to two years. The time limit for claiming unpaid vacation pay would also be increased from six months to one year.
- Requires employers to provide each employee with a copy of the most recent poster published by the Ministry of Labour. Employers would further be required to provide a translated copy of the poster, where available, if an employee requests a translation into a language other than English . Currently, employers only need to post a copy of the poster in the workplace.
- Empowers an Employment Standards Officer to require an employer to examine its records and/or practices to determine compliance with the ESA or the Regulations, and to report the results of the examination to the Officer . Under these proposed self-audit provisions, Officers are given wide discretion to determine the scope, method, and format of the examination.
Bill 146 further proposes a number of new protections for temporary employees:
- Notably, temporary help agencies and their clients would be made jointly and severally liable for any unpaid wages and overtime owed to temporary employees. Under the proposed amendments, the temporary agency would be primarily responsible for an assignment employee's wages; however, employees would not be required to exhaust proceedings against the agency before commencing proceedings against the employer for the recovery of unpaid wages. Also, a client of a temporary agency would be deemed to be the employer of a temporary employee for the purpose of enforcing liability for unpaid wages. This means that temporary employees would have recourse for unpaid wages against the employers who ultimately use their services.
- Finally, in addition to the record requirements under Part VI of the ESA, both temporary agencies and their clients would be required to record and retain the number of hours worked daily and weekly by temporary employees. Temp agencies and employers would also be required to ensure that these records were "readily available for inspection".
Bill 146 proposes a number of new protections for both permanent and temporary employees. Although still in the introductory phase, employees and employers will be well advised to familiarize themselves with their respective rights and obligations under the proposed amendments.