On December 10, 2015 the Ontario Legislature passed the Employment and Labour Statute Law Amendment Act, 2015 which amended the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, the Fire Prevention and Protection Act and the Public Sector Labour Relations Transition Act.
There were a number of changes made to these four pieces of legislation, but the below changes in particular should be noted by Employers.
Prohibition from Preventing Employees from Reporting Workplace Injuries and Increased Penalties
The Workplace Safety and Insurance Act was amended to include a new offense in an effort to prevent workers from reporting workplace injuries or illnesses and also to increase the maximum penalty available under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act.
Employers are now expressly prohibited from taking any action by an employer that is intended to discourage or prevent a worker from filing a WSIB claim for benefits or influencing or inducing the worker to withdraw or abandon a claim for benefits. Examples of actions that are prohibited include:
- Dismissing or threatening to dismiss a worker;
- Disciplining or suspending or threatening to discipline or suspend a worker;
- Imposing a penalty on a worker; and
- Directly or indirectly intimidating or coercing a worker with threats, promises, persuasion or other means.
If an employer does violate this part of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act the employer is subject to a new penalty that is to be prescribed in the regulations and also penalties under section 155.1 of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act. The maximum penalty under section 155.1 has also been increased from $100,000 to $500,000.
Creation of the "Fair Practices Commissioner"
The Employment and Labour Statute Law Amendment Act, 2015 requires the WSIB board of directors to appoint a Fair Practices Commissioner whose role it will be to act as an ombudsman for injured workers, employers and WSIB service providers.
The board of directors is required to create the functions of the Fair Practices Commissioner, but those functions must include, at a minimum, investigating complaints and making recommendations to the board of directors. The Fair Practices Commissioner will be required to make an annual report on his or her activities and to provide a copy of the report which will be made available to the public.
Employers, injured workers and WSIB service providers will be able to make complaints regarding their experiences with the WSIB program which may result in an investigation and potential recommendations.
Changes to Firefighter Labour Relations
The Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997 (the "FPPA") received extensive amendments. The provincial goverment's official announcement states that the changes to the FPPA will "provide more dispute resolution tools for the professional fire services sector by allowing labour relations disputes to be heard by the Ontario Labour Relations Board as opposed to the Ontario Courts." In a rare event, both the Association of Municipalities Ontario and the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association supported the amendments to the FPPA.
The amendments mirror the unfair labour practice provisions of the Labour Relations Act and expressly prohibits employers from interfering with the collective bargaining rights of firefighter associations. The FPPA was also altered to include an expedited rights arbitration process similar to that found in section 49 of the Labour Relations Act. Either party to a collective agreement can ask the Minister or Labour to appoint a single arbitrator to decide an unresolved grievance involving the interpretation, application, administration or alleged violation of a collective agreement, including whether or not a matter is arbitrable.
Finally, the FPPA added some protection for individual firefighters. The amendments prohibit a firefighter's association from requiring an employer to discharge a firefighter because the firefighter was expelled or suspended from membership in the association or the membership in the association was denied or withheld from the firefighter in cases where the firefighter:
- was or is a member of another association or trade union;
- has engaged in activity against the association or on behalf of another association or trade union;
- has engaged in reasonable dissent within the association;
- has been discriminated against by the association in the application of its membership rules; or
- has refused to pay initiation fees, dues or other assessments to the association which are unreasonable.
The Association of Municipalities Ontario is hopeful that these provisions may assist municipalities that employ full-time firefighters that also serve as volunteer firefighters in other municipalities. These firefighters are frequently referred to in the industry as "double-hatters". Double hatters made the news this past summer when the International Association of Firefighters asked the City of Toronto to terminate the employment of a firefighter who had been a part-time volunteer firefighter in another jurisdiction.
Public Sector Union Amalgamations and Restructurings
Finally, the Public Sector Labour Relations Transition Act, 1997 (the "PSLRTA") was amended to help reduce the potential for labour disruption and delay for workers in the broader public sector when there are changes to bargaining units due to amalgamations and restructurings.
The amended PSLRTA provides that if the prescribed number of employees were in a bargaining unit before the change, no vote is required under section 23 to approve of the bargaining unit.1 In that case an order will be granted under section 23 to appoint that bargaining agent as the bargaining agent for all of the employees in the unit.