Changes to Ontario’s Employment Standards Act

Recently in Ontario, several monumental changes have been implemented to the provincial Employment Standards Act (the “Act” or “ESA”) while other amendments are scheduled to come into force soon. Although the amendments differ in nature, they all aim to improve working conditions for employees in one way or another.

The increase in numbers

Perhaps the most anticipated amendment is the increase to the minimum wage. The following table is a perfect illustration of the gradual increase to the minimum wage over the years:

Minimum Wage Categories Change effective September 30, 2017October 1, 2017 to December 31, 2017January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2018January 1, 2019 to September 30, 2019
General Minimum Wage$11.40 per hour11.61415
Students under 18 who work not more than 28 hours per week when school is in session, or work during a school break or summer holidays$10.70 per hour10.913.1514.1
Liquor Servers$9.90 per hour10.112.213.05
Hunting and fishing guides$56.95: Rate for working less than five consecutive hours in a day 587075
$113.95: Rate for working five or more hours in a day whether or not the hours are consecutive116140150
Homeworkers (employees doing paid work in their own home for an employer) $12.55 per hour12.815.416.5

***Source: “Proposed Changes to Ontario’s Employment and Labour Laws”, News Ministry of Labour, published on May 30, 2017, page 1, lastly accessed on February 7, 2018 at

The most notable change is the general minimum wage increase from $11.60 to $14.00 effective January 1, 2018 then from $14.00 to $15.00 effective January 1, 2019.

Not just the numbers

However, the changes brought about by the new and improved ESA are not exclusively monetary. A good example would be the distinction between an independent contractor and an employee. Currently, it is up to the employer to correctly classify a worker as an independent contractor or an employee and if the employer does so improperly then he/she risks being prosecuted by the Ministry of Labour.

Another non-monetary change is the extension of several types of leave in order to allow employees more flexibility to tend to their personal needs. For instance, parental leave is now 61 weeks for employees who have taken a pregnancy leave and 63 weeks for employees who have not, which is almost double the duration dictated by the outdated version of the Act. The domestic violence leave, sexual violence leave, pregnancy leave, and the child death leave have also been extended.

The only type of leave that has not been extended is the personal emergency leave. Based on the previous version of the Act, only employees in workplaces of 50 employees or more were entitled to personal emergency leave, but that is no longer the case. As of January 1, 2018, all employees are now entitled to take a total of two days of paid personal emergency leave and eight days of unpaid personal emergency leave in each calendar year subject to a few exceptions.

The amendments also afford employees the opportunity to tend to their ailing loved ones, albeit without pay, through the medical family leave. Presently, an employee is entitled to unpaid family medical leave of up to 28 weeks to provide care or support to a family member in need if a qualified health practitioner issues a certificate stating that the individual has a serious medical condition.

In addition to the above-mentioned types of leave, employees can also benefit from the new vacation provisions that focus on the number of years of work experience. Employees with more than 5 years experience are now entitled to three weeks of paid vacation whereas employees with less than 5 years experience get two weeks of paid vacation.

On-call employees are not forgotten by legislators and should look forward to the new scheduling rules that lay ahead. Although these new rules come into force on January 1, 2019, on-call employees might take comfort in knowing that if they are on call but not called to work or they are called to work for less than three hours, they will still be paid three hours regardless. The new scheduling rules also include changes to shift cancellations whereby employees will have the right to refuse to take on shifts if they are given less than 96 hours’ notice.

Impacts on businesses

As promising as all these changes are, amending a statute is one thing, enforcing it is another. Contravening employers are subject to monetary fines ranging between $350.00 and $1,500.00. Furthermore, an employer who has been issued a penalty can find their name published by the director of employment standards. In the world of business, such publication might prove more damaging to employers than the monetary penalties themselves. These harsh repercussions signal a genuine effort on the part of legislators towards implementation.

If you have questions about the amendments to the Employment Standards Act, or require assistance with other business matters, please get in touch with us.