By Kate Wallace, AdvocateDaily.com Contributor
There’s been a raft of recent proposed changes to Ontario’s labour and employment regulations, but Toronto employment lawyer Doug MacLeod says the good news is that compliance isn’t onerous.
Being proactive is key, rather than ignoring the requirements and risking a visit from the Ministry of Labour, an increasingly likely possibility with its impending hire of 175 new employment standards officers. he says.
“Once they issue an order, it doesn’t matter how busy you are or how many other things are on your plate, you’re going to have to make it a priority,” MacLeod, principal of MacLeod Law Firm, tells AdvocateDaily.com. “And if you don’t comply, there are serious consequences, including fines.”
MacLeod is hosting a pair of seminars to address employers’ concerns about a recent raft of proposed changes to Ontario’s labour and employment regulations.
In June, the Ontario government introduced Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, which includes numerous proposed changes to the Employment Standards Act. After a speedy first hearing and public consultations over the summer, the bill is slated for second reading when the provincial legislature reconvenes this month.
If it passes, it will bring into law a $15 minimum wage, two days paid personal emergency leave, restrictions on using temporary help agencies, and the expansion of card-based union certification into new sectors. The employee-friendly legislation was met with concern by many Ontario businesses.
“The employer community went insane, mostly over the minimum wage hike,” MacLeod says, especially in smaller communities or in sectors such as retail, where wages of less than $15 an hour are more common.
“It was a blunt instrument, this across-the-board increase so quickly without taking into consideration the economics of certain industries,” he says.
MacLeod says the proposed changes are simply the latest in a steady stream of increasing regulation in recent years.
“It just keeps coming and coming,” he says, although most small employers are not up-to-date on requirements, including those around mandatory training, policies and procedures for harassment and health and safety, and new obligations related to the Ontarians With Disabilities Act.
“In the past, employers said, ‘Look we don’t have an HR person, we have no idea these things are coming in, and we’re so focused on just trying to keep our heads above water, we’re not going to worry about it.’ So, they just didn’t do it.”
The stakes were low, MacLeod says, because enforcement was rare.
But with the announcement of 175 new inspectors, that laissez-faire approach will no longer cut it, he says.
“There were so few enforcement officers that most people just happily didn’t comply because there were no consequences,” MacLeod says. “Now, there’s a much better chance you’ll get inspected.”
The gap between employers’ knowledge of their obligations and the consequences of not taking the simple steps for compliance, have prompted MacLeod to host a pair of one-day workshops — Oct. 16 in Toronto and Oct. 20 in Barrie — that will explore three areas of common concern: how to prepare for a Ministry of Labour inspection, how to update employment contracts to address the ever-changing laws, and how to accommodate an employee with a mental disability.
“This is the future for small employers,” he says.
It’s the first such public-education session MacLeod has offered.
“I’m not in the training business, but these issues are so important that I thought I would create a day to deal with three of them,” MacLeod says. “I think these are growth issues that most employers are struggling to deal with.”
The seminar is capped at 30 participants and is geared to small and medium-sized employers. The format will be a mix of lecture and hands-on application of the learning.
MacLeod knows from his clients how stressful a visit from the ministry can be.
“It’s very disruptive to the business,” MacLeod says. “Most people have a fear of authority, so the fact that there’s a government employee in their business, talking to their people can be very stressful.”
MacLeod will walk employers through what they can expect when an inspector visits.
“So, when the Ministry of Labour comes in, instead of having an anxiety attack, you can say come on in, let me show you our policies that we have posted. Here’s proof that we’ve training everybody, we’ve done everything we’re supposed to.”