On August 11, 2015, the Ontario government released long-awaited details about the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP). Although there are design issues that need to be settled and many unanswered questions on how the ORPP will work, employers with Ontario employees are one step closer to understanding the impact of the ORPP on their businesses.

All Ontario employees age 18 and older (except federally-regulated workers) will be required to participate in either the ORPP or a comparable workplace pension plan by 2020. The timing for enrolment in the ORPP depends on which category an employer falls within:

Wave 1: Employers with 500 or more employees, without a registered pension plan, will be required to participate in the ORPP starting January 1, 2017.

Wave 2: Employers with 50 to 499 employees, without a registered pension plan, will be required to participate in the ORPP starting January 1, 2018.

Wave 3: Employers with 50 or fewer employees, without a registered pension plan, will be required to participate in the ORPP starting January 1, 2019.

Wave 4: Employers with a registered pension plan that is not comparable to the ORPP, or that have Ontario employees who are not members of their “comparable” pension plan, will be required to participate in the ORPP starting January 1, 2020.

Under the ORPP, the required employee and employer contributions will be phased in, depending on the applicable enrolment “wave”. By 2021, all participating employers and employees will be contributing 1.9% each (total 3.8%) of employees’ base salary to the ORPP annually.

Employers and employees that participate in a pension plan that is comparable to the ORPP will be exempt from participating in the ORPP. An employer that currently does not participate in a registered pension plan can establish a comparable plan prior to its scheduled ORPP enrolment date to qualify for exemption. Defined benefit (DB) and defined contribution (DC) plans will be considered comparable if they satisfy certain requirements. A DB plan that provides a minimum benefit accrual rate of at least 0.5% of an employee’s earnings will be comparable, while a DC plan must have annual contributions of at least 8% of an employee’s earnings (with at least 4% employer funded) in order to be comparable. Other group savings arrangements, such as group registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs) and deferred profit sharing plans, will not be considered comparable to the ORPP.

The government has stated that the ORPP Administration Corporation will “contact all Ontario employers in early 2016 in writing to verify their existing pension plans and assess the coverage offered by employers to their employees.”

What’s next:

The Ontario government continues to work on the design details of the ORPP, including developing appropriate comparability tests for other types of registered pension plans, exploring options for the self-employed, developing a buy-back mechanism for employees to purchase past service credits, and examining options to allow all Ontario employers with comparable plans to opt-in and participate in the ORPP. Other plan-specific information, such as the minimum earnings threshold, also must be confirmed. Additional details will need to be released prior to the implementation of the ORPP in 2017.

In the meantime, employers with Ontario employees should review their current retirement savings arrangements and determine whether changes should be made in light of the ORPP. For example, sponsors of non-comparable DC pension plans may want to increase mandatory employee and employer contribution rates in order to be comparable, and group RRSP sponsors may want to consider converting their plan to a DC pension plan given the many similarities of those plans. Before making changes, employers need to decide if participation in the ORPP is desirable for some or all of its Ontario employees and, if so, whether participation will be an alternative, or in addition, to the current workplace pension plan.