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If you are employed in Ontario, most workplaces are required to prominently display the poster “What you should know about the Ontario Employment Standards Act.”
However, the legislation has 142 sections and there are over a dozen lengthily regulations containing special rules and exemptions, so a one-page poster cannot possibly provide you with all of the information you need about your rights and responsibilities at work.
Here are five important things that you should know.
1. Who is not covered: The majority of Ontario business establishments must comply with the ESA, but there are some important exceptions. If you work for a federally-regulated sector like airlines, banks or inter-provincial railways you have similar but not identical protection under the Canada Labour Code.
Some other excluded groups are students on certain types of high school or university work experience programs; politicians, judges, clergy or elected trade union officials; and police officers .
2. Protection for domestics: There are additional important protections for live-in domestics from abroad that can be found in the Employment Protections for Foreign Nationals Act. For example, if you are a foreign live-in caregiver, recruiters can’t charge you any direct or indirect fees and your employer cannot deduct any agency fees they paid from your salary.
Recruiters and employers also cannot take your property, including your passports or work permits. Furthermore, they cannot intimidate or penalize you for asserting your rights under any Ontario statute.
3. Minimum wage: The provincial minimum wage is $10.25/hour, but there are important exceptions. For example, employers only have to pay students under the age of 18 who work part-time (28 hours a week or less) $9.60/hour. And the minimum wage for employees who serve liquor directly to customers or guests in licensed premises is only $8.90/hour.
However, if you do paid work in your own home, you must be paid at least $11.28/hour. You are classified as a “homeworker” whether you sew clothes for a clothing manufacturer, answer telephone calls for a call centre, or write software for a high-tech company. Students of any age (including students under the age of 18 years) who work from home must be paid the homeworker’s minimum wage.
4. Equal pay for equal work: The Ontario Pay Equity Act requires that men and women receive equal pay for performing jobs of equal value that may be very different (i.e. a nurse and an electrician).
In contrast, the ESA has provisions that ensure women and men receive equal pay for performing substantially the same job. Therefore, in theory at least, if both a woman and a man were hired at the same time in the same establishment as an entry level clerk, they should be paid the same amount.
The problem with enforcing these provisions is that different rates of pay based on factors like seniority, experience or work performance are acceptable. Employees who think they are paid less than a person of the opposite sex doing the same job rarely have all the relevant information necessary to prove an unacceptable male/female pay differential.
If you fill out a claim and provide all of the required information, the Ministry of Labour staff will investigate your claim. Except in specified circumstance you must contact your employer first with your complaint.
5. If you are fired: If you are fired without cause and not covered by a collective agreement, the ESA establishes a three-tiered approach to the compensation you are entitled to from your employer in lieu of notice.
For example, if you worked for an Ontario company with a payroll of over $2.5 million for 30 years before you were wrongfully dismissed, you would be entitled to eight weeks termination pay ; 26 weeks severance pay; plus an additional amount of 16 weeks’ pay if over 500 people in your company are fired within a one month period.
You may also have a claim for further compensation under the common law of wrongful dismissal or a claim under human rights legislation. It is important to seek legal advice before you file an ESA or human rights claim to ensure you pursue your legal rights in a way that will ensure you get everything you are entitled to.
Related: Fired, be careful where you sue
Other protections for Ontario workers are codified in occupational health and safety laws.
Sheryl Smolkin is a Toronto lawyer and writer. Contact her through her website and follow her on Twitter @SherylSmolkin.