Ontario’s Working for Workers Act, 2023: Key Changes Affecting Employers

On October 26, 2023, the Working for Workers Act, 2023 (the “Act”)the Ontario government’s third iteration of this legislation aimed at protecting workers,  received Royal Assent and came into force. The Act introduces amendments to several employment-related statutes, impacting employers across the province. Below are some of the most relevant amendments. 

Mass Terminations Under the ESA:

One of the most notable changes introduced by the Act is the expansion of the definition of an employer’s “establishment” under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”). This expansion now includes the private residences of employees who work from home. As a result, employers must take these employees into account when assessing mass terminations. Mass terminations occur when 50 or more employees are terminated within the employer’s “establishment” in a four-week period.

Employers, including temporary help agencies, must also provide notice of termination to affected employees during mass terminations. The notice should be in a form approved by the Director of Employment Standards.

This is a significant acknowledgement of the prevalence and permanence of remote work, and the legislature seeking to ensure that remote workers are treated equally to their in-person counterparts. 

Reservist Leave:

The Act expands eligibility for reservist leave under the ESA. Reservists now have the right to take leave to recover from physical or mental health issues, injuries, or medical emergencies related to their military service. Additionally, the eligibility period for reservist leave has been reduced from three to two months of consecutive employment.

Enhanced Licensing Requirements:

The Act strengthens licensing requirements for recruiters and those who use third parties for the recruitment and employment of foreign nationals under the ESA. This aims to protect foreign workers and ensure that recruitment processes are conducted in a fair and ethical manner.

Protection of Foreign Nationals:

The Act introduces harsher penalties for individuals or corporations convicted of taking possession of property to which a foreign national is entitled, such as passports or work permits. For individuals, the penalty can result in a fine of up to $500,000, imprisonment for up to 12 months, or both. Corporations may face fines of up to $1,000,000. The Ontario Labour Relations Board can also assess penalties for contravention and reduce them if they are found to be excessive or punitive.

Occupational Health and Safety Act:

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Act increases the maximum fine for corporations upon conviction from $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. This change emphasizes the importance of workplace safety and the consequences of failing to meet safety standards.

Takeaways for Employers

Ontario employers should be mindful of these employee-friendly changes to various Ontario statutes, which are now in effect. All of these amendments contained in the Act signal the Ontario government’s continued commitment to improving legal protections for vulnerable workers in Ontario and punishing more harshly those who break the law. 

If you need guidance navigating these recent changes or require assistance ensuring compliance, get in touch with us today!

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