The owner of a pool company has been sentenced to 90 days in jail and fined $15,000 for not paying thousands of dollars in wages to former student lifeguards.

The employer operated a string of pool supply companies, and hired students to work as lifeguards during the summer months. The employer was able to secure business by offering cheap rates, which were only possible because he did not pay his staff their last month of wages. When the staff, mostly aged 16 to 22, would complain, the employer would simply close his business and reopen under a new name the next season.

68 young student lifeguards made complaints to the Ministry of Labour in 2007 and 2008, and the Ministry ordered the employer to pay over $63,000 in unpaid wages. The employer failed to do so, and the Ministry escalated the matter by taking him to court.

The employer was convicted on April 8, 2013 in the Ontario Court of Justice for failing to comply with three Ministry of Labour orders. In addition to the sentence of 90 days in jail and a $15,000 penalty, the employer was ordered to pay $55,000 in outstanding wages still owed to the student lifeguards.

Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi heralded the importance of this decision by commenting that “vulnerable workers, including those in seasonal businesses or young workers in summer jobs, are entitled to protection from those who might try to take advantage of them.”

The Ministry has recently issued a factsheet to remind young workers of their rights under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”), particularly with respect to wages. With two prison sentences in the last six months for unpaid wages, the Ministry is similarly (and more sternly) reminding employers of their basic obligations under the ESA.

The ESA allows for unpaid work in very specific circumstances (i.e. work performed as part of a college/university program), and employees (often youth employees) in summer jobs, internships, and part time work, remain entitled to at least minimum wage for their work. This decision should serve as a precedent for employers that taking advantage of young employees can result in severe penalties.