Bill 146, entitled “Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act,” was recently introduced into the Ontario Legislature by Yasir Naqvi, Minister of Labour for the governing Liberal party. Among other minor adjustments, the proposed changes would significantly increase employees’ ability to recover unpaid wages and transfer a number of potential liabilities from temporary help agencies to their clients.
If it passes, Bill 146 will make a number of changes to legislation including, but not limited to, the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the “ESA”), the Occupational Health and Safety Act (the “OHSA”) and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act.
Among the proposed changes are the following:
- amending the sections regarding the repayment of wages under the terms of the ESA;
- changing the time limit for recovery of unpaid wages under the ESA;
- making temporary help agencies and their clients jointly and severally liable for unpaid wages owing to an assignment employee;
- requiring the WSIB to assign costs incurred as a result of a workplace injury to the clients of a temporary help agency, not the temporary help agency itself; and
- amending the definition of worker in the OHSA to include workers such as co-op students, trainees, and other non-paid learners.
What does this mean for employers?
The most potentially expensive changes for most employers are those dealing with unpaid wages under the ESA. Unpaid wages include any payment an employer is required to make to an employee under the ESA and includes regular wages, vacation pay, public holiday pay, minimum wage, overtime pay, and termination and severance pay. Employees are currently entitled to claim unpaid wages only to a cap of $10,000 and may only make a claim for amounts which came due in the previous six months1. The proposed changes eliminate the $10,000 cap and provide for a two-year window to make a claim.
Employers who utilize temporary hiring agencies would also be subject to a very different regime if the proposed changes become law. Currently, the employees of temporary hiring agencies (“assignment employees”) are paid by the agency, which is then paid by its client for whom the assignment employee has performed work. Under Bill 146, if an assignment employee is not paid by the agency, s/he can seek payment from the client. The client then faces the possibility of paying for the assignment employee twice – once to the agency and once directly to the employee.
An issue arising more frequently is that of workplace injuries to assignment employees. Currently, the WSIB normally assigns the cost of such an injury to the agency. However, the Bill 146 changes would see the costs assigned to the agency’s client.
The Bill was introduced on December 4th, 2013 and carried through its first reading. As there could be significant changes while it moves through the legislative process, stay tuned – we’ll update you as it progresses.
1 Note: This 6-month recovery period is increased to a 12-month period in certain situations of continued violations of the same employment standard.