The last few weeks have seen a flurry of activity at Queen’s Park. New bills at the legislature propose (or have just implemented) important changes to Ontario employment law. In this article, we review four of the most noteworthy developments. As Premier Ford currently leads a majority government, it is expected that the changes listed below will all eventually become law. However, readers should take note that some modifications may occur as bills work their way through the Legislative Assembly.
$15 minimum wage
Bill 43, the Build Ontario Act (Budget Measures), 2021, has passed first reading at Queen’s Park. Among its many components, Bill 43 proposes to raise Ontario’s general minimum wage to $15.00 per hour effective January 1, 2022. Thereafter, as of October 1, 2022, the minimum wage will be adjusted annually to account for inflation.
The other major wage change contained in Bill 43 is the elimination of the special minimum wage for liquor servers. Currently, liquor servers are paid a lower minimum wage based on the theory that these base earnings will be offset by tips received in the course of employment. This distinction will be eliminated as of January 1, 2022.
Ban on non-compete agreements
Bill 27, the Working for Workers Act, 2021, proposes a near total prohibition on the use of non-compete agreements in Ontario.
For reference, non-compete agreements are defined in Bill 27 as:
an agreement, or any part of an agreement, between an employer and an employee that prohibits the employee from engaging in any business, work, occupation, profession, project or other activity that is in competition with the employer’s business after the employment relationship between the employee and the employer ends.
A small carveout is made to allow the use of non-compete agreements in the context of a sale of business. It will bear watching to see whether any further exemptions are made to the scope of the ban.
Bill 27 has currently completed second reading at Queen’s Park. If passed, the non-compete ban will take retroactive effect as of October 25, 2021.
Disconnecting from work policy
Bill 27 also proposes that employers (with a staff complement of 25 or more) must create and maintain a “disconnecting from work” policy.
Establishing stronger boundaries between work and personal time has been a growing policy concern both within Canada and globally. For instance, France passed a “right to disconnect” law in 2016 and the Government of Canada is currently studying whether to adopt a disconnecting from work rule at the federal level.
Ontario’s proposed change with respect to disconnecting from work is somewhat limited in its effect. It merely requires that employers consider the subject of disconnecting from work and establish a policy to facilitate the same. No specific parameters have yet been proposed to govern the content of disconnecting from work polices (though specific requirements are expected to be prescribed at some point in future).
Employers will be required to draft their own disconnecting from work policy within six months of the passage of Bill 27. For more details, see the government’s News Release and this recent article by Achkar Law posted on First Reference Talks.
Poppies at work
On November 9, 2021, Ontario passed Bill 38, the Remembrance Week Amendment Act, 2021, into law. Bill 38 provides a right for employees to wear a poppy in the workplace. This protection is time limited. The legal right to wear a poppy at work only applies during Remembrance Week (defined as November 5 to 11 of each calendar year).
The genesis driving poppy rights stems from public backlash when, in 2020, Whole Foods prevented its employees from wearing poppies in the workplace. Such apparel was said to conflict with Whole Foods’ dress code.
There is a limited exemption to the right to wear a poppy under Bill 38 – poppies may not be worn in workplace settings where their use may pose a health and safety risk.
The changes highlighted in this article are not exhaustive. Other workplace proposals at Queen’s Park currently under review include: new licensing rules for temporary help agencies; limiting the use of “Canadian experience” requirements in regulated professions; and ensuring access to washroom facilities for delivery personnel. It thus remains a busy time for employment law in Ontario. Employers should not hesitate to seek legal advice to ensure compliance with these seemingly ever-changing workplace regulatory requirements.
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