What Employees Need to Know About the Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act ("Bill 18")

by Administrator11. March 2015 11:06

On November 20, 2014 the Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, 2014 (“Bill 18”) received royal assent.  Bill 18 includes many significant amendments to the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”). This new law affects all employees working under Ontario's jurisdiction.

Minimum Wage Increases

The most significant amendments in Bill 18 concern changes to the procedure for increasing the minimum wage.  Before the passage of Bill 18, minimum wage increases were implemented entirely on an ad-hoc basis.  The process led to irregular, uncertain and politicized increases to the minimum wage; affected employees could not rely upon increases.

With the passage of Bill 18, and commencing this year, the minimum wage will undergo annual adjustments based on the Consumer Price Index for Ontario as published by Statistics Canada.  The key dates for employees to remember are April 1 and October 1:

  • By April 1 of each year the Minister of Labour is required to publish the revised minimum wage rate on a Government of Ontario website;
  • On October 1 of each year the revised minimum wage rate published by April 1 will go into effect.

     Recovering Unpaid Wages

Employees who believe that their employer has not complied with the ESA can file a claim with the Ministry of Labour (as opposed to going to court) and have their claim adjudicated by an Employment Standards Officer (as opposed to a judge).  The administrative claims system established by the ESA is intended to be cheaper, faster and easier than the courts (although it does not always succeed on these fronts).

Before the passage of Bill 18, the claims system was subject to two significant restrictions that limited its usefulness to employees.  First, there was a $10,000 cap on the amount of unpaid wages an employee could recover.  If unpaid wages exceeded that amount, an employee was required to either abandon the amount of the claim in excess of $10,000 or file a claim in court.  Second, the claims system restricted the period of time during which an employee could claim unpaid wages to 6 months before the wages became due (which could be extended to 1 year if certain conditions were met).  An employee who became aware that an employer was improperly withholding wages after the fact, was restricted to claiming wages to the 6-month period before the unpaid wages were discovered.

With the passage of Bill 18, for all wages that are owed after February 20, 2015, the $10,000 cap is eliminated. The 6 month recovery period has been increased to 2 years.  There is now no limit to the amount an Employment Standards Officer can order for unpaid wages. 

These amendments make the Ministry of Labour claims process a much more viable alternative to the court system than was previously the case.  An employee who is owed unpaid wages should seriously consider and should seek legal advice now whether the Ministry of Labour claims system is the most effective process to initiate to resolve their dispute.

ESA Poster

Under Part II of the ESA, the Minister of Labour is required to prepare and publish a poster that informs employees of their rights under the ESA. Employers are required to post the poster in their workplaces.  The most recent version of the ESA Poster, published in June 2014, can be found and printed at the website of the Ministry of Labour.

With the passage of Bill 18 and beginning May 20, 2015, in addition to posting the ESA poster in the workplace, employers are required to provide new and existing employees with a copy of the ESA poster.  New employees must be provided with a copy of the poster within 30 days of becoming an employee and existing employees must be provided a copy within thirty days of May 20, 2015.

The three changes discussed here are only a few of the amendment introduced by Bill 18.  In addition to further amendments to the ESA, Bill 18 also amended the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act (Live-In Caregivers and Others), 2009, the Labour Relations Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997.

To view all of the changes introduced by Bill 18, see the Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, 2014 here.

As they say, very late is better than not at all...

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