Bill 66, Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act received Royal Assent in the Ontario legislature on April 3, 2019, putting into effect several changes to Ontario’s employment laws. These added to the amendments that the Ontario government had made to the Employment Standards Act (the “ESA”) only months earlier through the passing of Bill 47, Making Ontario Open for Business Act. Both bills have resulted in changes to Ontario’s employment legislation that reflect the current government’s employer-friendly inclination.
Although the Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act impacted various pieces of legislation, the changes most relevant to the average non-unionized employee will likely be those made to the ESA. The general trend in the amendments is that employees now have less help with enforcing their rights under the ESA and combatting unfair treatment resulting from the power imbalance that is inherent in employer-employee relationships.
The two biggest changes both relate to hours of work. First, the bill makes it easier for an employer to enter into an agreement with an employee that states that he or she will work up to a specified number of hours in a work week in excess of the 48-hour limit. Prior to the bill’s passing, employers were required to get approval on such agreements from the Director of Employment Standards. Further, there were restrictions on scheduling an employee to work more than 60 hours per week even when approval for such an agreement was sought. Now, employers are free to make an agreement to have an employee work for however many hours above the limit per week, and they may do so without seeking approval.
The second major change is similar in that it also involves the elimination of approval requirements. Prior to April 3, 2019, employers were also required to get approval from the Director of Employment Standards on agreements that allow employers to average an employee’s hours of work over a specified number of weeks for the purposes of determining the employee’s entitlement to overtime pay. Now, those agreements do not need to be approved.
The overall effect of these changes is to remove some of the administrative hassle for employers by diminishing employee protections. Given the imbalance of bargaining power in the employer-employee relationship, the approval requirements used to give employees a layer of protection so that they did not enter into unfair agreements because they did not know their rights or felt powerless to enforce them. Bill 66 may increase the occurrence of employees entering into unfair and unhealthy agreements with their employers.
These big changes are also accompanied by smaller amendments that remove processes intended to help employees understand and enforce their rights. For example, employers are no longer required to have a poster that summarizes employee rights under the ESA on display at their workplace. Employees should be sure to inform themselves of their rights under the ESA and should not rush into signing agreements with their employers. Bill 66 has increased the power imbalance between employers and employees.