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The new year rings in new laws and rules, bringing Canadians better working conditions, modernized standards, and wage fairness.

Employees and employers will be affected by the introduction of the Pay Equity Act, as well as by the changes to the Employment Equity Act, Wage Earner Protection Program Act, Canada Labour Code, and Occupational Health and Safety Act. Furthermore, employees and employers in Ontario will be affected by wage changes in relation to the Employment Standards Act. These changes will have an impact on a wide range of employment issues, including those relating to termination, wrongful dismissal or unjust dismissal.

Pay Equity Act

The Pay Equity Act (the “Act”) received Royal Assent on December 13, 2018, and will implement wage fairness by comparing jobs usually done by women with different jobs usually done by men. The Act replaces the current complaint-based approach with a proactive system that requires employers to take steps in providing men and women with equal pay for work of equal value. Employers will be required to identify and correct gender discrimination that may be present in the compensation practices of federally regulated workplaces with 10 or more employees.

The legislation makes it clear that employers cannot terminate, harass, or penalize employees for enforcing their pay equity rights, including being involved in or asking questions about pay equity processes and objecting to pay equity plans. Employees who have been wrongfully terminated for enforcing their pay equity rights should speak to an employment lawyer about filing a complaint with the Pay Equity Office.

Employment Equity Act

The Employment Equity Act (the “Act”) introduces pay transparency measures to shift business culture and expectations towards greater equality. Specifically, the Act is aimed at raising awareness of wage gaps that affect women, Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, and members of visible minorities. Canadians will have access to online information on the wage gaps of employers in federally regulated workplaces in the private sector. This amendment is expected to come into force in the winter of 2020.

Wage Earner Protection Program Act

The Wage Earner Protection Program Act will expand eligibility for the Wage Earner Protection Program (WEPP) by increasing the maximum financial support provided to workers who are owed wages when their employer files bankruptcy or enters receivership.

The WEPP is intended to ensure payment of eligible wages, including salaries, commissions, vacation, termination, and severance pay that the employee earned or became entitled to in the last six months before the employer’s bankruptcy or receivership.

The WEPP payment will increase from four to seven weeks of Employment Insurance insurable earnings and will be applicable to all employees in Canada whose employer declares bankruptcy.

Canada Labour Code

Significant amendments to the Canada Labour Code (the “Code”) will be implemented in 2020, including the implementation of a workplace harassment and violence framework, new compliance and enforcement measures, modernization of labour standards, and protections for interns.

The biggest change will be that the Code will establish a regime to eliminate and address workplace harassment and violence in federally regulated workplaces.

Specifically, the legislation will define ‘harassment and violence’, require employers to develop policies and investigate misconduct, and expand employee rights by allowing complaints through an internal complaint resolution process.  The intention is to encourage workplaces to transform into more transparent, safe, and accountable environments.

The changes to the Canada Labour Code will have an impact on a wide range of cases, including those related to unjust dismissal and wrongful termination. For a more in-depth analysis of the amendments to the Code related to harassment and violence in the workplace, please refer to our previous post: Workplace Harassment and Federal Workers: What Changes Are Coming and How Will They Impact You?.

Furthermore, the modernization of labour standards will be achieved by:

  • Improving employees’ eligibility for entitlements, including eliminating minimum length of service requirements for general holiday pay, sick leave, maternity leave, parental leave, leave related to critical illness, and leave related to death or disappearance of a child;
  • Improving work-life balance, including adding an unpaid break of 30 minutes for every five hours of work, unpaid breaks for breastfeeding or pumping breastmilk, introducing a new unpaid leave for court and jury duty, improving access to medical leave by allowing it to be taken for appointments, and requiring employers to provide at least 96 hours advance notice of employee schedules;
  • Ensuring fair treatment and compensation for employees in precarious work, including a requirement that part-time, temporary, and seasonal employees be paid equally to their full-time counterparts, and prohibiting employers from treating employees as if they are not an employee in order to avoid obligations and deprive them of rights; and
  • Ensuring that employees receive sufficient notice and compensation when their jobs are terminated to help protect their financial security, including requiring employers to inform terminated employees about their termination rights.

Lastly, the amendment includes further protections afforded to interns in federally regulated workplaces. Interns will continue to receive protections under the Occupation Health and Safety Act, but will now also receive certain labour standard protections, such as maximum hours of work, weekly days of rest, and general holidays. Unpaid internships in federally regulated workplaces will also be limited to those that are part of a formal education program.

Occupational Health and Safety Act

On January 1, 2020, amendments to two regulations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, related to increased protection for workers from exposure to biological and chemical agents and designated substances, come into force.

Under the amended Ontario Regulation 883/90, the duties of employers will be expanded to include additional measures to protect workers from exposure to biological and chemical agents. This will include mandated monitoring, sampling, and determination of airborne concentration, increased obligations with respect to a workplace respiratory protection program, and changes to the measurement and calculation of exposure. In addition, definitions will be changed and expanded, and new terms, such as ‘maximum use concentration’, added.

Under Ontario Regulation 490/09, Section 15 will be amended to require employers to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to ensure the protection of its own workers, third party workers, and contractors who are in the workplace and will likely be affected by exposure to the designated substance. Furthermore, there are also changes with respect to airborne measurement and the calculation of exposure to the worker.

Ontario’s Employment Standard Act

On October 1, 2020, Ontario’s minimum wage will be adjusted from $14.00 per hour to reflect annual inflation. Employers should review employment contracts to ensure that they are complying with the changes, and employees should stay informed about their rights and when the change will take effect.

Stay Tuned for the Changes

Given all of the changes expected to occur in 2020, we recommend that both employers and employees remain aware of their rights and responsibilities and ensure compliance with all of the new laws coming into force. As the amendments will be implemented throughout 2020, and not all dates have been announced, it is important to stay up to date with employment law news in order to promote better working conditions, modernized standards, and wage fairness, and to remain compliant as changes take effect.

If you are seeking assistance with respect to any employment matters relating to the changes occurring in 2020, including how to develop policies and training that is consistent with changes to the Canada Labour Code, or whether your termination was a reprisal for enforcing your pay equity rights, please contact Toronto employment lawyers Sultan Lawyers at mlahert@sultanlawyers.com or 416-214-5111.


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