Claims alleging the misclassification of workers as independent contractors rather than employees are widespread. Properly classifying a worker’s status is critical because it determines substantive legal rights. In addition to independent contractors and employees, in Canada, there is a hybrid category — dependent contractors. To be classified as a dependent contractor, the contractor must be “economically dependent” on a particular client. Dependent contractor status may be found even where a worker conducts business through a corporation and hires employees to assist in the performance of the work.

In a significant decision, Canadian Union of Postal Workers v. Foodora Inc., the Ontario Labour Relations Board (the Board) held that couriers delivering food on behalf of Foodora Inc., an app based food delivery company, were dependent contractors under the Labour Relations Act, 1995 (the Act) and thus have the right to unionize under the Act. This is one of the first decisions commenting on the status of workers in the gig economy.


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The Ontario Court of Appeal released yet another decision on the interpretation and enforceability of termination clauses: Rossman v. Canadian Solar Inc., 2019 ONCA 992. Recent appellate decisions on this matter have been inconsistent on this issue and unfortunately, Rossman is more bad news for employers. Nevertheless this decision provides guidance that should be considered in reviewing and drafting termination provisions in employment contracts.
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Courts usually treat incentive compensation as part of the compensatory damages owed in lieu of common law reasonable notice of dismissal. However, if the employment contract and/or the incentive plan unambiguously extinguish entitlement to incentive compensation upon notice of dismissal, the agreement(s) will generally prevail over the common law entitlement. In O’Reilly v. IMAX Corporation, the Ontario Court of Appeal once again stressed the importance of using precise language in bonus or stock option plans to deny, or otherwise limit, employee entitlement to incentive compensation during the reasonable notice period.
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Employers often wish to enter new or updated employment agreements with existing employees. The driving force is typically that circumstances have changed, but it can also be that the employer simply wants different or additional terms. However, the employer must give the employee valid consideration, otherwise the new or updated agreement will not be enforceable.
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The Ontario Court of Appeal has reiterated that, barring exceptional circumstances, reasonable notice for dismissal without cause will not exceed 24 months. The Court partially overturned the lower court’s decision in Dawe v The Equitable Life Insurance Company of Canada, which also ruled on the enforceability of unilateral changes to the employer’s bonus plan.
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In 2016, the Ontario Court of Appeal confirmed that dependent contractors are entitled to reasonable notice of termination. In a recent decision, Cormier v 1772887 Ontario Limited cob as St. Joseph Communications, (“Cormier“) the Ontario Superior Court of Justice extended this principle – commenting that service as an independent contractor should be considered in calculating the reasonable notice period in certain circumstances.
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In a recent decision, Modern Cleaning Concept Inc. v. Comité paritaire de l’entretien d’édifices publics de la région de Québec, the majority of the Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) held that a cleaner who had a franchise agreement with a cleaning company was actually an employee, not an independent contractor. This “employee” determination, however, was in the context of a very particular legislative regime, which applied to the specific franchise relationship. Since the cleaner offered his cleaning services in public buildings, he was covered by a collective agreement, the Decree respecting building service employees in the Quebec region (“Decree”), which sets out minimum standards in the workplace (wages, hours of work, overtime, etc.) and is governed by the Act respecting collective agreement decrees (“Act”). With the scope of its provisions being “public order”, the Decree can apply to any contract where an individual is in a relationship determined to be that of “employee” within the meaning of the Act.
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The Supreme Court of Canada will decide if an employee is entitled to payments owed in the event of a corporate acquisition despite the fact that the employee resigned over a year before the triggering event. On January 31, 2019, the SCC granted leave to appeal in Matthews v. Ocean Nutrition Canada Limited. The employee asserts that he is entitled to over $1 million in profits following the acquisition of his former employer – even though he had resigned 13 months before the transaction. If the SCC decides in the employee’s favour, employers may face more challenges (and increased litigation) when seeking to enforce limiting clauses in employment agreements.
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