Bill 148 introduced a host of new requirements for Ontario employers, many of which have already received a lot of attention, such as the changes to minimum wage and personal emergency leave. However, there are numerous other changes that have received only a passing mention, despite the fact that they create important – and enforceable – rights for Ontario employees.

In this article we cover three such changes, which should be (but may not be) on the radar of Ontario payroll and human resource information system administrators:

  • new vacation time and vacation pay requirements,
  • changes to the calculation of overtime pay where employees have multiple rates of pay, and
  • new record keeping requirements.

New Vacation Time and Vacation Pay Requirements

Bill 148 increased the vacation time and vacation pay entitlements to at least three weeks' time off and 6% of wages for employees with five or more years of service.

As has always been the case, all periods of employment, whether active or inactive, counts towards an employee's length of service for the purpose of determining vacation and vacation pay. Examples of inactive periods of employment include time spent on: pregnancy leave, parental leave, family medical leave, any other leaves of absence, and lay-off.

The increase in vacation pay entitlement also affects the amount payable to an employee under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) upon the termination of employment without cause. If an employer provides pay in lieu of notice of termination (or Termination Pay) to an employee with five or more years' service, vacation pay of at least 6% of the Termination Pay must also be provided. Vacation pay continues to not be accrued on Severance Pay required by the ESA.

Employers with Alternative Vacation Entitlement Year

Some employers have a vacation entitlement year that is not based on an employee's hire date (e.g., a vacation entitlement year that is based on the calendar year). This is referred to in the ESA as an "alternative vacation entitlement year." We have been asked whether the vacation entitlement of employees are "pro-rated" between the two different levels of entitlements for the year in which they reached five years' service. According to the Ministry of Labour, the answer is no.

The MOL's position is that an employee earns three weeks' vacation time and vacation pay of 6% of wages for the entire vacation entitlement year in which they reached five years' service, as long as that vacation entitlement year ends on or after December 31, 2017. That is, an employee earns the increased entitlements even for the portion of the vacation entitlement year before the employee actually reached five years' service.

To illustrate, consider the following example:

  • An employer's vacation entitlement year runs from January 1 to December 31 for all of its employees.
  • Amy was hired on July 1, 2013. Amy reaches five years' service on July 1, 2018. The question is when Amy starts earning the increased entitlements of three weeks' vacation time and vacation pay of 6% of wages.
  • The MOL's position[1] is that Amy starts earning the increased entitlements on January 1, 2018 – i.e., the start of the vacation entitlement year during which she reaches five years' service. There is no proration of the entitlements even though for half of that vacation entitlement year (i.e., January 1 to June 30, 2018) Amy does not have five years' service.

In order to comply with the ESA, we suggest that employers with alternative vacation entitlement year consider the following:

  • Employers will need to make adjustments of payroll records at the beginning of each vacation entitlement year in order to provide employees who will reach five years' service during the year with the correct number of vacation days and correct amount of vacation pay;
  • Employers who pay their employees their accrued vacation pay on each pay cheque will need to make adjustments to the calculation of vacation pay and review (and revise, if appropriate) the written agreements with employees regarding the timing of providing vacation pay;
  • Put in place and communicate written policies regarding the recovery of overpayment of vacation pay in the event that an employee is paid vacation pay based on the increased entitlements for a portion of the vacation entitlement year but ceases to be employed before the employee reaches five years' service.

Overtime Pay for Employees with Multiple Rates of Pay

Bill 148 also introduced new requirements for the calculation of overtime pay where an employer compensates employees based on different rates of pay depending on the work performed – such as shift premiums or reduced rates for travel time. These new requirements came into effect on January 1, 2018.

Previously, employees with multiple rates of pay were entitled to receive overtime pay (for hours worked in excess of the overtime threshold) at a blended rate. In other words, the overtime rate was calculated based on the proportion of non-overtime hours the employee worked at each different rate in the relevant work week, multiplied by that rate.

Under the new provisions, overtime pay must be paid at the actual rate being earned at the time the employee works the hours that are in excess of the applicable overtime threshold. Take, for example, an employee who is entitled to overtime after 44 hours of work in week, and works 46 hours in a week, as follow:

  • The first 40 hours of the week in a role that regularly pays $18 per hour and
  • The final eight hours in a role that regularly pays $22 per hour

Because of the new requirements, the four hours of overtime pay to which the employee is entitled must be paid based on the regular rate that is payable when the overtime was actually worked:

  • $22 per hour x 1.5 = $33 per hour for the 4 hours of overtime worked

The converse would also be true; if an employee worked at a higher rate for the majority of the week, but performed work that paid at a lower rate at the end of the week, including working overtime hours in that role, the overtime rate should be calculated at the lower rate. In other words, it is irrelevant that the employee's regular rate of pay for the non-overtime hours of work was different.

Unlike some of the new provisions introduced by Bill 148, there is no grace period or exemption for unionized employers, many of which have complex overtime calculation provisions in their collective agreements. Employers who do pay shift premiums and provide multiple rates of pay are encouraged to review their scheduling practices to assess any potential consequences

New Record Keeping Requirements

Bill 148 also introduced new record retention requirements. While perhaps one of the least publicized changes, the new record retention requirements will have significant impacts for employers if they are required to respond to an audit from the Ministry or if they need to respond to a complaint by an employee. Without the required documentation, an employer may be unable to defend against a complaint of non-compliance with the ESA.

Specifically, starting January 1, 2018 employers must keep the following new records:

  • dates and time that an employee worked;
  • if an employee has multiple regular rates of pay and the employee worked overtime in a given week, the dates and times that the employee performed overtime work and the applicable rate of pay; and
  • the amount of vacation pay that an employee earned and how it was calculated.

In addition, the retention period for vacation time and pay records increased from three (3) to five (5) years from when the record was made.

There are also new records that must be kept regarding employee schedules and changes made to those schedules, in accordance with the new employee scheduling entitlements that come into effect on January 1, 2019. We recently wrote about these new scheduling entitlements in detail, but briefly, Bill 148 introduced an employee entitlement to at least three (3) hours pay at the employee's regular rate if (subject to prescribed exceptions):

  • the employer cancels the employee's shift with less than 48 hours' notice
  • the employee regularly works more than three hours, and is required to attend work, but works less than 3 hours (and is available to work for longer) or
  • the employee is on-call, but is not called in or is called in for less than three hours.

Employees also have a new right to refuse requests or demands to either work or be on call on a day that an employee is not scheduled to work, unless the employer gives at least 96 hours' (4 days') notice of the change, subject to some exceptions including where the work comes within certain prescribed emergency situations.

As a result of these new restrictions on scheduling changes, beginning January 1, 2019 employers must keep the following new records:

  • records of the date and time of any cancellations of a scheduled day of work or scheduled on call work
  • records of the dates and times that an employee was scheduled to work or be on call and any changes to the on-call schedule

These records must be kept for three years from the day or week to which the record relates.

Take Away

Employers are encouraged to carefully review their current practices, in collaboration with their payroll staff and Human Resource Information System administrators to assess whether they require modification in light of these new requirements.