What do Ontario employers need to know about Bill 79?

Changes to mass layoffs, data given to new hires; crack down on temp agencies

What do Ontario employers need to know about Bill 79?

HR professionals in Ontario are seemingly being hit with a cornucopia of legislative changes lately, as the provincial government has introduced many recent tweaks to the laws governing employment.

In one of the latest iterations, Bill 79, Working for Workers Act, 2023, employers will see a number of new regulations and this appears to be the pattern lately that the government is embarking upon in order to modernize many workplace laws, says an employment lawyer.

“It seems like they’re taking a year-by-year approach in determining what cleanup needs to be done or what changes need to be done and so if this provincial government is going to continue to do this on a year-by-year basis, there could be more, either employment standards changes, occupational health and safety changes, and perhaps more so than we would have seen in the past,” says Andrew Gould, an associate with the labour, employment and human rights group at Fasken in Toronto.

“You could maybe go by every six months without really having to change anything, it seems like these changes, even if it’s not the release of the legislation themselves, but the coming into force of them, it seems to be that you really have to be staying on top of the requirements for your workplace.”

Mass layoff rules modified

While the overall effect of some of the alterations aren’t going to become overly onerous for employers, there are some new considerations when it comes to mass terminations, says Gould.

“Practically, it does expand potential liability, particularly for employers who have either a really large remote workforce or potentially have gone to a remote workforce and in those situations, it could make a big difference.”

The new rules will expand the definition of the workplace to include the private homes of remote workers when it comes to mass terminations.

“This was interesting because this redefinition of establishment is one of the first legislative acknowledgments of the changing landscape of the workplace and hybrid work and perhaps put a light bulb over employers and employees — and certainly lawyers on both sides of the employment bar — to wonder whether there are other holes in the ESA based on the way that it’s currently drafted,” says Gould.

Employees will now be eligible for enhanced notice under the regulations, he says, ranging from eight weeks when 50 to 199 employees are dismissed, moving to 12 weeks for 200 to 499 employees and 16 weeks when 500 or more employees are let go at the same time.

The Ontario government recently banned organizations from mandating Canadian experience in job postings.

More timely information for employees

Another new aspect of the legislation should also be scrutinized carefully by HR professionals, according to Gould, is around the various types of employment information that must be provided to new hires.

“There’s no precise instructions yet but it looks like the release from the Ontario government has suggested that the type of information that’s going to be included are things like, upon hire providing: what is the rate of pay going to be? What is the location of work going to be? What are the hours going to be? And again, similar to the mass-termination provisions, a lot of employers are already doing this in practice generally because it reduces ambiguity for both parties, but making it a concrete obligation certainly changes things a little bit. It means employers have to be sharp.”

This effort is most likely “part of the growing trend across the country in increasing employment transparency,” says Gould, including what is soon to be happening with Ontario’s move to mandate more openness by employers.

Cracking down on employment organizations

For temporary help agencies and recruiting firms, the government is imposing new licensing standards on the businesses which is good news for employees who rely on these types of organizations.

“I think the intention is certainly to have a little bit more of a formal control over how these types of organizations operate and particularly when it comes to international and vulnerable populations. You’ll see in this version of the legislation, the legislative amendments that came in around essentially saying, where a temporary help agency or recruiter is guilty of a certain offense say withholding an individual’s passport, that type of organization is automatically banned from being able to be licensed under the new Ontario regime,” says Gould.

“I think part one is probably adding some structure to this legislative regime and the second would be protecting the populations that are often using these agencies and recruiters to be placed.”

Finally, it also appears that the government is raising the bar when it comes to occupational health and safety, says Gould as maximum fines are increasing from $1.5 million to $2 million.

“It gives the Crown the ability to seek higher penalties in really serious cases and I think it is probably largely meant to be a deterrent and send a message that in Ontario they’re taking this seriously, and particularly when they can say these are now the highest fines of their kind in Canada and they’ve raised the maximum fines a couple of years in a row now.”

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