On November 20, 2014, Bill 18 which is known as the Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, 2014 received royal assent. Bill 18 made significant changes to Ontario's Employment Standards Act ("the ESA") and amended other employment-related statutes.
With respect to the ESA, there were five key changes introduced.
- Effective November 20, 2014, the ESA requires that where a temporary help agency supplied the services of an assignment employee to a client of the agency, the client can now be held jointly and severally liable for the wages (i.e. regular wages, overtime pay, public holiday pay and premium pay) owed by the agency to the assignment employee. Primary responsibility for payment of wages rests with the agency, but a claim against the agency's client could proceed before the proceedings against the agency are exhausted. For purposes of a claim, the client of the agency would be deemed to be the employer of the worker.
- Prior to Bill 18, the ESA imposed a $10,000 cap on the amount that an employment standards officer ("ESO") or the Ontario Labour Relations Board could award in an order for unpaid wages. Effective February 20, 2015, this $10,000 cap is eliminated. In addition, as of February 20, 2015, an employee will be able to recover wages that became due up to two years before the employee's complaint was filed. This change marks a departure from the 6 month or in some cases 12 month recovery periods previously in effect.
- Changes were also made with respect to how the minimum wage rates in the province are determined. The current minimum wage rates will remain in effect until September 30, 2015. Thereafter, the minimum wage rates will be adjusted in line with the Consumer Price Index of Ontario. According the to the new legislative scheme, the government will publish new minimum wage rates by April 1st of each year, and those rates will come into effect on October 1st of the same year. This process is intended to begin to apply on October 1, 2015.
- Effective May 20, 2015, an ESO will have the power to order an employer to conduct a "self-audit." Upon written notice, an ESO can require an employer to conduct an examination of the employer's records, practices or both to determine whether the employer is in compliance with one or more provisions of the ESA. The employer will be obligated to report the findings of the self-audit process to the ESO and to account for any mistakes or irregularities.
- Effective May 20, 2015, employers will be required to provide each employee with a copy of the Ministry of Labour's most recent ESA poster within 30 days of an individual being hired. For existing employees, employers will have 30 days from May 20, 2015, to meet this obligation.
Bill 18 also introduced amendments to Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, the Employment Protection for Foreign National Act, and the Labour Relations Act.