Bill 18, Ontario’s Stronger Workplace for a Stronger Economy Act, 2014 (“Act”), received royal assent on November 20, 2014. This Bill has already brought, and will continue to bring, significant changes to the Employment Standards Act (“ESA”) and other employment legislation.
The Schedules to the Act come into force, and therefore become law, as provided in each Schedule. This blog post will focus on Schedule 2 to the Act, which is the Schedule that brings about changes to the ESA.
Even though many of the provisions related to the ESA will not come into force until as late as 2 years after the Act received Royal Assent, some very important changes have already come into force as of February 20, 2015.
The first significant change is to the monetary cap placed on complaints to the Ministry of Labour. Prior to February 20, an employee could not recover more than $10,000.00 in wages owed by filing a Ministry of Labour complaint pursuant to the ESA. This often meant that employees had no choice but to start a civil claim through the court system instead of bringing a complaint, as otherwise they would not recover all amounts owed to them. Remember that “wages” include (a) monetary remuneration payable by an employer to an employee under the terms of an employment contract, oral or written, express or implied and (b) any payment required to be made by an employer to an employee under the ESA, such as termination and severance pay, which are often in excess of $10,000.00.
Now, the cap has officially been removed, and an employee is free to start a complaint pursuant to the ESA for any and all wages they are owed. However, this is only true for wages that became due to the employee after the day this subsection came into force, namely February 21, 2015.
Another significant change brought about by the Act is the fact that employees can now bring a complaint for unpaid wages that became due more than two years before their complaint was filed. This is a vast improvement to the old section which only permitted employees to reach back six months for such wages. This increased period also applies to employment standards officers that are investigating a complaint or conducting an inspection. Again, an employee would not be able to avail themselves of this two year period for wages that became due prior to February 21, 2015, and certain situations can trigger different obligations, therefore every situation must be examined within its own set of facts.
Nevertheless, as the civil claim process takes longer and costs more money than a complaint, this will certainly save money for those who need it the most, get them the money they deserve more quickly and help with the existing backlog in the civil court system.