What Employers Need to Know About Ontario’s Working for Workers’ Act, 2023

  • Legislative updates
Ontario Working for Workers Act
Charlie Herrera Vacaflor

Charlie Herrera Vacaflor, Employment Law & HR Content Senior Consultant

(Last updated )

On October 26, 2023, Ontario’s Bill 79, the Working for Workers’ Act, 2023 (the Act), received Royal Assent. This means the Act has officially become law, increasing the rights of many employees in Ontario and placing new obligations on employers.

This article will briefly go over the amendments introduced by the Act as it has amended various pieces of legislation, including the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA), the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act, 2009 (EPFNA), the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities Act, and the Fair Access to Regulated Professions and Compulsory Trades Act, 2006. 

Amendments to the ESA

Group Terminations

The Act has amended section 53.2 of the ESA and expanded the definition of “establishment of the employer” to include the private residence of an employee, such as those who work solely from their homes (e.g., fully remote employee). The interpretation of “establishment of the employer” was broadened to include fully remote employees in entitlements regarding group termination notice.

Before this amendment, in the case of a group termination, there was disagreement about whether fully remote employees were entitled to longer notification periods for termination or pay in lieu. The ESA prescribes that whenever an employer terminates between 50 to 199 employees at the employer’s establishment within a four-week period, the employer has an obligation to provide at least 8 weeks of termination notice, independent of an individual employee’s length of service.

The amendment to section 58(2) (a, c) of the ESA, ensures a fully remote employee isn’t denied the mass termination entitlements that on-site employees enjoy because they do not work at an employer’s physical location.

Have questions about the latest changes to Ontario’s Working for Workers’ Act, 2023?

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Termination notice

During a group termination, employers must provide notice to the Ontario Director of Employment Standards using Form 1 and post it in the employer’s establishment on the first day of the notice period. The statutory notice of termination period for group termination is not effective until the Director of Employment Standards receives Form 1. Moreover, employers must provide a copy of Form 1 to each terminated employee on the first day of the notice period.

As a result of the amendment to section 58(2)(c) of the ESA, employers must make sure that fully remote employees receive a copy of Form 1 and are notified of any group termination that affects them.   

Written Employment Information

The scope of rights and obligations prescribed in the ESA that may be subject to further regulations has been expanded to include an obligation to provide “written employment information” to employees and prospective employees (i.e., a written employment statement). Currently, the ESA does not outline any timeframe or requirements about what information must be provided. However, employers in Ontario should be on high alert, as future regulations establishing those requirements may be published at any moment. 

Reservist Leave

The Act introduces two amendments to the statutory, job-protected, reservist leave. The scope of reasons an employee is entitled to a leave of absence in section 50.2 (1) has been expanded. Now, an employee is also entitled to reservist leave if they are in treatment, recovery, or rehabilitation for a physical or mental health illness, injury, or medical emergency that resulted from their participation in an operation, emergency, or training activity.

At the same time, the continuous employment period to qualify for reservist leave has been reduced to 2 consecutive months of service from the previous 3-month period (section 50.2 (3). 

Protection for Foreign Nationals and Recruiter License Requirements

Foreign nationals seeking to join the Ontario workforce now have stronger protections. For Recruiters and Temporary Help Agencies (THAs) applying for a license or a license renewal, the Act increases licensing requirements. These new requirements incorporate sections 7(1), 7(3) and 7.1 of the EPFNA, prohibiting recruiters from charging fees for any service, good, or benefit provided to a foreign national. As a result, a THA or Recruiter applying for a license or license renewal must also submit the following statements declaring that the applicant (either a Recruiter or a THA) is aware:

  • of the prohibition against charging for any service, good, or benefit provided to a foreign national.
  • that the Director of Employment Standards may refuse to issue or revoke a license if the applicant has ever charged a fee to a foreign national for services.
  • that the third party has not charged a fee to a foreign national if the applicant has contracted the services of a third-party involved in recruiting foreign nationals.

In the third scenario, the applicant must also submit a statement acknowledging that their application could be refused or revoked by the Director of Employment Standard if the third-party contractor has collected or charged a fee to a foreign national for any service, good, or benefit provided.

Furthermore, under the EPFNA, employers and recruiters (and contracted third parties) are prohibited from taking possession of or retaining the property of a foreign national, such as their passport or work permit. The Act significantly increases the maximum fines for individuals and corporations convicted of this prohibition. The fine for individuals have been increased to $500,000.00 or imprisonment of not more than 12 months. For a corporation, the maximum fine has been increased to $1,000,000.00.

Amendments to the OHSA

Increased Fines

The Act has also amended the OHSA by increasing the maximum fines that could be imposed on a corporation for an OHSA violation. The maximum fine for a corporation is now $2,000,000.00 (up from $1,500,000.00). This amendment is now in force as of October 26, 2023. Corporations that are alleged to have committed an OHSA violation before October 26, 2023, are not subject to the increased penalty.

This recent increase follows a trend of fine increases for OHSA violations. In the spring of 2022, Ontario increased the maximum fine for individual corporate directors and officers to $1,500,000.00 (from $500,000.00). As a result of these recent increases, corporations that violate health and safety legislation in Ontario have the highest fines in Canada.  

Other Amended Acts

The Act also amends the Fair Access to Regulated Professions and Compulsory Trades Act, 2006 (“FARPCTA”), which removes barriers for internationally trained professionals seeking to join the Ontario workforce. Section 6, related to “duty regarding public interest,” now states that regulated professions are obligated to consult with the government to ensure that, as a matter of public interest, there is an adequate number of qualified, skilled, and competent regulated professionals in Ontario.

Section 10.2 was further added to the FARPCTA, which now requires regulated professions to accept “alternative to Canadian experience,” wherever they are used as a qualifier for registration.

Do you need help staying compliant with the latest changes to the Working for Workers’ Act, 2023?

Peninsula’s HR experts can help you write new policies, update your company handbooks to reflect the changes, and support you with any other HR, Health and Safety, or employment matters that arise. To learn more about how our services can benefit your business, book an appointment with us today at 1 (833) 247-3652.

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