Written By Ben Sissons, Talia Bregman and Carl Cunningham
On March 20, 2023, the Ontario government introduced Bill 79, Working for Workers Act, 2023 (Bill 79), which, if passed, will introduce changes to Ontario's Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) and other employment-related legislation in Ontario. This is the third year in a row that we have seen proposed changes to Ontario's workplace legislation (see our previous updates on the 2022 and 2021 changes). Below is an overview of only certain of the more material changes being proposed by Bill 79, which provincially-regulated employers in Ontario will need to be mindful of if (when) Bill 79 is passed.
Certain Proposed Changes to the ESA
If Bill 79 is passed as currently drafted, changes to the ESA will include the following:
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. The ESA currently defines "establishment" to mean a location at which an employer carries on business. If Bill 79 is passed, the location at which an employer caries on business will now include an employee's private residence if the employee performs work in the private residence and does not perform work at any other location where the employer carries on business. As a result, employees working remotely full-time would be included in the count for mass terminations and would be eligible for the same enhanced notice (or pay in lieu) as their counterparts who work in-office or on under a hybrid work arrangement.
Under Bill 79, employers would also be 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 employee affected by the mass termination, in addition to the existing requirements of providing the Form 1 to the Director of Employment Standards and posting it in a conspicuous place in the workplace.
These changes would come into effect on the later of July 1, 2023 and the day Bill 79 receives Royal Assent.
Bill 79 would broaden 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. These changes would come into effect on the day Bill 79 receives Royal Assent.
Proposed Changes to OHSA
Bill 79 also proposes to amend 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, which would take effect on the day Bill 79 receives Royal Assent.
Key Takeaways for Ontario Employers
As of the date of posting, Bill 79 has already passed its second reading and it is possible that Bill 79 will move swiftly through the legislature, similar to previous bills. As a result, provincially-regulated employers in Ontario should keep an eye on Bill 79 because if it is passed, it will create new protections for Ontario employees with new corresponding obligations for employers.
We will continue to monitor the status of Bill 79 and provide notable updates. In the interim, please contact any of the authors for more information about any of the issues discussed in this post, or another member of the Bennett Jones Employment Services group.