The Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, 2014 received royal assent on November 20, 2014, amending five employment and labour statutes, including the Employment Standards Act, 2000, theLabour Relations Act, 1995, and the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Many of the new provisions are set to commence in 2015.

Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA)

a.) Monetary Cap on Claims Eliminated and Time Limits Increased

The cap on ESA claims is being removed. As of February 20, 2015, the maximum amount an employment standards officer may order for unpaid wages will no longer be capped at $10,000 per employee. The new section 103(4.1) under Part XXII “Complaints and Enforcement” will impose no limit on the amount an officer may order. This change will make the ESA process potentially more appealing for litigating employees and could increase claims made under this process (which can be pursued only to the exclusion of civil claims).

In addition, claims can be brought up to two years following the date wages become due, up significantly from the previous limit of six months. This new time limit is in effect only for wages that become due after February 20, 2015.

b.) Self-audit for ESA Compliance

New self-auditing requirements will come into force on May 20, 2015. Under the new provisions, an employment standards officer may require an employer to conduct an examination of its records and/or practices to determine compliance with the ESA or its regulations. Subsequent reporting obligations may arise where infractions are discovered. This new power will be in addition to employment standards officers’ current inspection, investigation and enforcement powers.

c.) Temporary Help Rules Changing

Employers will acquire new obligations under Part XVIII.1 “Temporary Help Agencies” on November 20, 2015. Clients of temporary help agencies will be deemed to be employers of assignment employees. In this respect, orders issued by employment standards officers will be treated as orders against those employers. Moreover, as deemed employers, clients will share joint and several liability with agencies for assignment employees’ unpaid wages.

Clients of temporary help agencies will also have new record-keeping obligations respecting the number of hours worked by each assignment employee. These records will need to be retained for three years and made available to employment standards officers when requested upon inspection.

Labour Relations Act, 1995 (LRA)

Changes to the LRA affecting the construction industry will come into effect on May 20, 2015. The changes will shorten the open period, from three months to two months, during which another trade union may apply to the Ontario Labour Relations Board for certification as bargaining agent. Employees can also apply for termination of bargaining rights of a trade union during this shortened period. The timing of this two-month open period will depend on the term of the applicable collective agreement.

Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA)

As of November 20, 2014, employers’ obligations to workers under the OHSA have a broader scope because of a new definition of “worker.”

Prior to this change, only persons who worked for monetary compensation qualified as “workers.” The current, more comprehensive definition includes persons who do not receive monetary compensation—namely, volunteers, secondary school students working under approved work experience programs, persons working under non-compensatory programs approved by a post-secondary institution, and persons who do not qualify as “employees” under the ESA but receive training from an employer.

The definition also adds language encompassing “such other persons as may be prescribed who perform work or supply service for no monetary compensation,” covering volunteers and other unpaid interns and workers.