On March 20, 2023, Bill 79, Working for Workers Act, 2023, carried on a first reading in the Ontario legislature. If passed, Bill 79 will significantly amend several employment-related statutes and expand on legislative changes introduced in the Working for Workers Acts, 2021 and 2022.
Summary of Key Changes
The most important potential changes include:
- Mass Termination: Employees who work remotely from home will be included in the count for mass termination provisions under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA“). The result is that remote employees will receive the same eight-week minimum notice of termination or pay-in-lieu as their in-office colleagues. Currently, the meaning of “establishment” under the mass termination provisions only encompasses the physical location at which an employer carries on business, and does not include an employee’s private residence. If Bill 79 is passed as currently drafted, the proposed amendments to the mass termination provisions will come into force on the later of July 1, 2023, or the date on which Bill 79 receives Royal Assent.
- Health and Safety: The maximum fine that may be imposed on a corporation convicted of an offence under the Occupational Health and Safety Act will increase from $1.5 million to $2 million.
- Reservist Leave: The Employment Standards Act, 2000 will be amended to entitle an employee who is in treatment, recovery or rehabilitation in respect of a physical or mental health illness, injury or medical emergency that results from participation in certain operations or activities to reservist leave. Further, reservists who are deployed to emergency operations inside Canada will be entitled to take this leave immediately regardless of the length of their employment, and the length of employment required to take this leave for all other reasons will be reduced from three months to two months.
- Personal Information in Post-Secondary Education: Section 15 of the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities Act will be amended to permit the collection, disclosure and use of personal information for purposes related to certain employment programs and services. This includes disclosing personal information to persons or entities that administer, evaluate or deliver employment programs or services funded by the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development for the purpose of administering and delivering those programs or services.
- Temporary Foreign Workers: The Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act, 2009 will be amended to increase penalties employers and people who are convicted of taking possession of or retaining a foreign national’s passport or work permit. For individuals, the penalty will increase to a fine of not more than $500,000 and/or imprisonment for a term of not more than 12 months. For corporations, the penalty will increase to a fine of not more than $1,000,000.
- Job Information Transparency: Employers will be required to provide employees starting a new job with information about their job, such as pay, work location and hours of work, and the date by which that information needs to be provided. These draft regulations have not been published yet, but we will continue to monitor this significant amendment closely.
If passed, Bill 79 will strengthen protections for workers and build on the changes introduced in previous legislative amendments. Employers considering a workforce restructuring after July 1, 2023 should check to confirm whether Bill 79 has been passed, and if so, include remote workers when assessing whether the mass-termination provisions of the ESA are triggered, and how much notice remote workers are entitled to.
Further, if Bill 79 is passed, post-secondary institutions should have their privacy policies reviewed to ensure compliance with the proposed changes to the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities Act. And, all employers should have their employment contracts reviewed to ensure compliance with the job information transparency requirements.
If you have any questions or need assistance with any of the above, please contact someone from our team.