As you may have heard or read in our earlier blog, More Changes to Ontario's Employment-Related Legislation Are on the Horizon, the Ontario government introduced Bill 79, Working for Workers Act, 2023 in late March 2023. On October 26, 2023, Bill 79 received Royal Assent, introducing changes to Ontario's Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) and other employment-related legislation in Ontario. Below is an overview of certain of the more material changes that came into force under Bill 79 on October 26, 2023 and which provincially-regulated employers in Ontario will need to be mindful of moving forward.

Changes to the ESA

Mass Terminations - Inclusion of Remote Workers

Under the ESA, employees are entitled to more notice of termination (or pay in lieu) if 50 or more employees are terminated at an employer's establishment within a four-week period, subject to limited exceptions. With the adoption of Bill 79, the definition of "establishment" under the ESA has been expanded from a location at which an employer carries on business to now include an employee's private residence if the employee performs work in that residence and does not perform work at any other location where the employer carries on business. As a result, employees working remotely in Ontario on a full-time basis will now need to be included in the 50-employee count for mass terminations and are eligible for the same enhanced notice (or pay in lieu) as their counterparts who work in-office or on under a hybrid work arrangement.

Additionally, employers are now required to provide, on the first day of the notice period, a copy of a prescribed Form 1 (summarizing certain information relating to a mass termination) to each Ontario employee affected by the mass termination, in addition to the previous requirements of providing the Form 1 to the Director of Employment Standards and posting it in a conspicuous place in the workplace.

Expanded Reservist Leave

Bill 79 has also broadened the ESA's reservist leave provisions by both (1) expanding the reasons for which reservist leave can be taken to include a need to take a leave for treatment, recovery or rehabilitation purposes with respect to physical or mental health illness, injury or medical emergency that results from participation in certain operations or activities related to the Canadian Forces, and (2) lowering the mandatory length of service required for eligibility from three consecutive months to two consecutive months.

Changes to OHSA

Bill 79 has amended Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) by increasing the maximum fine for corporations convicted of OHSA violations from $1.5 million to $2 million.

Key Takeaways for Ontario Employers

The amendments to employment-related legislation introduced through Bill 79 provide enhanced protections to employees (and in particular, remote employees) in Ontario, while simultaneously imposing additional obligations on provincially-regulated employers in Ontario. Given the relative frequency with which the legislature is rolling out amendments, provincially-regulated employers in Ontario should continue to monitor future legislative updates to ensure they are continuing to comply with their oft-changing responsibilities.