Like it or Not, Workplace Laws Continue to Change
Laws affecting workers are not set in stone. Regulations regarding leaves of absence, payment of wages, employee scheduling, and other workplace issues keep changing. Nowadays the question isn’t whether employment laws will change but, rather, how much will they change? It makes compliance exceedingly difficult for employers because even the largest companies have trouble keeping up. And this legal uncertainty is not limited to the United States. The Canadian province of Ontario, for example, recently passed the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017—also known as Bill 148—which introduced sweeping revisions to its workplace laws. Here are highlights of a few of these changes:
Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave
Employees employed for at least 13 consecutive weeks are now eligible for up to 10 separate days of leave and up to 15 weeks of leave if they or their child experiences domestic or sexual violence or the threat of such violence. The first five days of leave each year is paid, and the remainder is unpaid. The leave took effect January 1, 2018.
Family Medical Leave
Effective January 1, 2018, the total amount of family medical leave covered employees receive increased from eight weeks in a 26-week period to 28 weeks in a 52-week period.
Critical Illness Leave
Before Bill 148, Ontario provided up to 37 weeks of unpaid leave for employees to provide care or support to their own critically ill minor child. The new legislation broadened the list of children for whom an employee can take leave to include critically ill children of family members, and created a new 17-week leave for employees to provide care or support to a critically ill adult family member. These leave provisions came into force on December 3, 2017.
Effective January 1, 2019, employees will be allowed to request a schedule or work location change without fear of discipline once they’ve been employed by their employer for three months. They will also be able to refuse shifts, with a few exceptions, if their employer asks them to work with less than 96 hours’ notice. Employers will also generally be required to pay employees for three hours of work if their shift is cancelled within 48 hours of their scheduled start time.
The general minimum wage increased to $14 per hour on January 1, 2018, and will rise to $15 on January 1, 2019.
Employees holding more than one job with an employer that have different rates of pay and who work overtime must be paid at the rate for the position they are working in during the overtime period. This provision took effect January 1, 2018.
Public holiday pay
Effective January 1, 2018, Bill 148 simplified the manner for calculating public holiday pay so employees are entitled to their average regular daily wage for a holiday. An employee’s public holiday pay calculation generally must be equal to the total amount of regular wages the employee earned in the pay period immediately preceding the public holiday, divided by the number of days the employee worked in that period.
On May 7, 2018, following discussions and feedback from stakeholders, the Ontario Government decided to revoke the method for calculating public holiday pay which came into effect under Bill 148 and conduct a review of the public holiday pay system later this year. In the interim, effective July 1, 1018, the formula for calculating public holiday pay that applied before Bill 148 will be reinstated.
Employers are now expressly prohibited from misclassifying employees as independent contractors. In other words, employers cannot treat employees as if they are self-employed to deny them employment standard protections. In case of a dispute, the employer has the burden of proving that a worker is not an employee. This came into effect November 27, 2017.
Review and revise
Although extensive, the Bill 148 amendments are no more comprehensive than other employment law developments taking place in the United States, Canada, and elsewhere in recent years. As for Ontario employers, you should review and revise any policies and practices impacted by Bill 148, as well as any employment agreements that need to be revised to comply with these new minimum standards. And remember, consult legal counsel if you have any questions concerning how these numerous workplace changes may affect you.